Consolidation, rising costs and more: The top trends dental execs are most afraid of

DSO consolidation, rising operational costs and staffing shortages are among the top trends dental execs and practice owners are most afraid of in 2023. 

Here, six dental leaders share with Becker's the trends taking place in today's dental industry that they are most afraid of and why.

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

Shannan Cottrell. COO of Arkansas Family Dental (Little Rock): The recent trends in dentistry are impressive. Technological innovations such as artificial intelligence, 3D printing, and digital technologies have the potential to revolutionize the field and provide patients with better care. For example, 3D printing can be used to create personalized dental implants and AI-powered tools can aid in diagnosing difficult-to-detect diseases and conditions.

However, despite these exciting developments, there's a shortage of dentists and auxiliary professionals in the dental industry. According to the American Dental Association, there may be a shortfall of over 10,000 dentists by 2025, and there's also a concern about the lack of diversity in the field and the aging workforce, which could deter new talent from entering the industry.

In my opinion, a trend that we need to focus on is to become more appealing to potential professionals. This involves offering better compensation, benefits, culture and work-life balance. Job satisfaction is a key factor in retaining dental professionals, and therefore, creating a positive work environment that promotes growth and learning can help attract and retain skilled dental professionals.

To sum it up, while the latest technological advancements in dentistry have the potential to improve patient care significantly, the industry also needs to address the shortage of dentists and auxiliary professionals. By making the profession more attractive to new talent, the dental industry can ensure that patients receive high quality care for years to come.

Michael Durbin, DDS. Owner of Durbin Orthodontics (Des Plaines, Ill.) and President of the Chicago Dental Society: Practice modality changes have increased access to dental services by offering both dentists and their patients flexibility in scheduling their treatment needs. While these are positive changes, I’m concerned about a growing threat to the doctor-patient relationship. Knowing that our patients have the choice to determine who will be providing their care and that the patient, in consultation with their dentist, will be able to choose the appropriate treatment, dentists and their patients have come to expect a lifelong relationship where we share in the joys of our patients’ lives. Increasingly, we are seeing parties outside of this relationship try to exert their influence and insert their own best interests, which are not always in alignment with the best interests of the patient.

Angelina Hendricks. Chief Technology Officer at PlanetDDS: We’re hearing from clients about several trends to keep an eye on in the dental industry. One would be the uncertain economic outlook in 2023, fueled by things like high interest rates and the recent collapse of Silicon Valley Bank. A second would be increased cybersecurity threats facing the whole healthcare industry as recently highlighted by the FBI. At Planet DDS, we believe in supporting our customers through innovative solutions such as artificial intelligence-powered, cloud-based imaging to increase patient confidence and trust for higher case acceptance to help keep schedules full as well as constant investment in data security and privacy.

Cyrus Lee, DMD. CEO of Permanente Dental Associates (Portland, Ore.): Dentistry has historically been a fragmented and somewhat of a cottage industry. Like pharmacy and family medicine before it, the market eventually favors consolidation in order to gain economies of scale and other efficiencies, which hopefully lead to better access to care for more people, because we know there is so much need out there for oral healthcare, which is critical to overall health and wellbeing. But my worry is that in this process, there may be a loss of the clinician's  voice and influence in the delivery of that care. 

Barry Lyon, DDS. Chief Dental Officer, Division of Orthodontics and Pediatric Dentistry, at Dental Care Alliance (Sarasota, Fla.): The trend I am most afraid of is the continued lack of stability in hiring and retaining dental staff members. The turnover of dental staff and providers is expensive and directly impacts patient care, customer service, workplace satisfaction and the bottom line. Unfortunately, it is not only dentistry that experiences these issues. It is found practically everywhere, and at times, with a secondary effect in dentistry.

The phenomenon known as "The Great Resignation" has forced many dental offices to reassess their goals. When you do not have enough dental assistants to work with doctors, productivity suffers. When you do not have enough front desk workers, customer service suffers.  

As an attempt to recruit staff, dentists and DSOs are forced to entice applicants with bonuses and higher wages. Once hired, many workers stay only long enough to find a better-paying position.

The longer this continues, the longer patient care will be affected. It’s really a shame because the demand for dental services is very high.

Joseph Wineman, DMD. Wineman Dental (Henderson, Nev.): The trends I am most concerned about are:

1. The rising costs of recruiting (there seems to be a shortage of experienced, well-trained applicants), continually training the newly hired and retaining quality staff members within my practice as the staff expenses continue to consume more of the revenue stream.  

2. Dental insurance companies’ reimbursements are not keeping up with inflation and they don't seem to realize practice overhead costs keep rising.

3. With the scientific literature continuing to prove the medical link between periodontal disease and medical conditions like heart disease, Alzheimer's and diabetes, insurance companies simply ignore this connection and some will not cover periodontal services 100 percent.

4. Supply costs that spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic have not returned to pre-pandemic levels. Private practice owners continue to pay more for the same supplies which were much more affordable in 2019. 

5. The infiltration of insurance companies and DSOs into dental schools so that students are shown only one side of the employment opportunity spectrum.

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