Where dentistry needs more independence, per 1 professional

The dental industry is in need of a referral process to decrease patient reliance on hospital emergency departments when urgent dental care is needed, according to one dentist. 

Charles Rim, DDS, a dentist at Oregon State Hospital in Salem, recently spoke with Becker's about the challenges and trends facing dentistry as well as what he would change about the industry. 

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

Q: What are the biggest challenges facing the industry? 

Dr. Charles Rim: Compared to five to 10 years ago, I think the biggest challenges facing the dental industry is long-term sustainability of individual dental offices with administrative concerns and rising cost of delivering dental services, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. With rising costs of materials, lab fees, workforce wages, property leases and insurance fees, individual dental offices face turbulent times to stay afloat in the inflation-impacted economy. 

Q: What technologies/innovations are coming into the industry that will improve efficiency and quality of care?

CR: The dental industry has numerous advances in technologies to improve efficiency and quality of care. For example, digital radiographs are used in many dental offices to capture diagnostic images with less radiation during exposure, improvement in resolution and a more efficient way to process images compared to traditional X-rays. 

Another example, especially during the pandemic, is teledentistry. With smartphones and proper office setup, patients are able to consult with an oral health provider, especially during an urgent event, and [providers can monitor] patients without an in-person appointment.  

There are many other advancements in dental technology to improve efficiency and quality of care such as CAD/CAM, 3D scanning and impression, dental implants, dental lasers, portable equipment and new diagnostic tools. To advance with a new technology will require initial capital investment, but it will pay long-term dividends. 

Q: How do you see your company/the industry evolving in the next three to five years?

CR: I think the next three to five years will be a challenging time for all sectors, including the dental industry, as the world is recovering from the pandemic and dealing with the inflation-impacted economy. 

In the upcoming years, the dental industry will evolve more into integrated health services, especially in the public health sector. As more people are under care for chronic health conditions with an increased number of aging population, there will be a greater need for interdisciplinary healthcare professionals providing health services to improve health outcomes and quality of life. This will be a profound paradigm shift in the dental industry as oral health providers will focus on individual and population health compared to traditional procedural-based compensation. 

Q: If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?

CR: One improvement I [would] like to see in the dental industry is an urgent dental care referral process in the community. According to the American Dental Association, there are an estimated 2 million visits to emergency departments, costing the healthcare system about $1.7 billion every year. One is not able to obtain definitive dental treatment at the ED. Throughout the nation, there are multiple effective ED referral programs in place. However, more work needs to be done at multiple levels where individuals must obtain appropriate urgent dental services by oral health providers in lieu of hospital EDs. With better communication, training, access to care, and system-level changes, people in the community can have value-added quality dental services. 

Q: What is the greatest piece of advice you have been given during your career? 

CR: Dentistry is a challenging but a rewarding career. I like to share a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson: 

"Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it well and serenely, and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense."

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