The dental industry's biggest uncertainties

Supply chain, staffing and reimbursement issues are just a few uncertainties the dental industry is grappling with today.

Eight voices from the dental industry weighed in to answer: "What is the dental industry's biggest uncertainty?"

Editor's note: Responses were edited lightly for clarity and brevity.

Bradley Dykstra, DDS. CEO of MI Smiles Dental Group (Hudsonville, Mich.): For me the greatest uncertainty is what the long-term effects of the current persistent inflation, supply chain disruptions and worker shortage will have on both the patient's ongoing demand and ability to pay for dental care as well as our capability and capacity to provide the care needed.

Suzanne Ebert, DMD. Vice President of Dental Practice and Relationship Management at ADA Business Innovation Group: The biggest concerns facing dentists today appear to mirror the concerns facing the general population: the economy and staffing. Although dentists overall are holding steady at around 86 percent recovery of patient volumes to pre-COVID levels, they are experiencing a major shortage of hygienists and assistants around the country. Additionally, while the cost of dental supplies is increasing, and despite the vast majority of dentists reporting increasing compensation for staff over the past year, we are hearing that some are now requesting additional compensation increases or even gas stipends to offset the rising prices of basic necessities. Overall confidence in economic recovery is low and is causing anxiety for many dentists.

Sodabeh Etminan, DMD. Dental Director of Mile Square Health Center-South Shore (Chicago): There are two big uncertainties for us: staffing and supply chain. We are having a hard time responding to demand and our expansion projects are delayed due to the increased lead time on dental equipment and supplies.

Steve Kuchuris. COO of Yellowstone Family Dental (Billings, Mont.): I would say there are two major areas of uncertainty over the next 12 to 24 months: the economy and the possible resurgence of COVID or other pandemics. A close second area of concern would be the labor shortage and rapidly rising dental worker wages as compared to the dental practice's ability to raise prices to keep pace with the wage inflation, particularly in PPO-based practices with little pricing power.

Louis Malcmacher, DDS. President of the American Academy of Facial Esthetics: Dentistry's biggest uncertainty is lower patient volume, which never fully recovered from the pandemic. Now with inflationary pressures and a struggling economy, patient volume remains lower with patients seeking only emergency treatment. There is one exception: dentists who have invested in their own skills to provide total facial aesthetics with Botox and filler injectables. Botox and filler aesthetic services are one of the only areas that have seen tremendous growth in 2021 and it has continued in 2022. AAFE dentist members' injectable production has averaged an increase of 30 percent so far in 2022 because patients are investing in themselves to look great and feel great in these uncertain times. My advice to every dentist is to get AAFE trained in Botox and fillers and give patients what they want.

Nora Peace. Shareholder of Pittsburgh Estate Law: The biggest uncertainty for dentistry is the future of the independent practices. Unless the independent practices find a way to work together to protect their independence from a supply and reimbursement side they will likely go the way of independent; physicians, optometrists and pharmacists. Dental practices in markets where the independent dentists can control themselves as fee for service will survive if this doesn't happen. Buying groups alone will not be sufficient as the reimbursement side controls a much higher percentage of the profitability of the dental business model.

Jerry Popeck, DMD. Popeck Family Dentistry (Pennsville, N.J.): I believe at the moment [the biggest uncertainty] is whether the staffing shortage will ever end. It is very difficult to hire new staff. It's very competitive between offices. Hopefully this issue will abate at some later time.

Robert Trager, DDS. Dentist for employees at JFK and LaGuardia airports (New York City): The dental industry will have fewer solo practices to call upon and the need for representatives. The DSOs will have a purchasing manager who can order large volume discounts from the big supply houses or online. The smaller independents will be bought out, leaving only the big firms or online buying. Only the big dental labs will be able to give discounts to large DSOs, therefore the demise of the small independent labs. I predict there will be consolidation in all of dentistry: labs, supply houses, dental offices and dental components, as well as dental conventions.

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