Happy New Year!

Two years ago, the CDA board commissioned a major study on the future of dentistry (Canadian Dentistry – 2032. It measured the current reality (2018) and then reached out 20 years, urging the industry to recognize both threats and opportunities articulated within four ‘Vision Statements’.

Then March 2020. Ironically, the pandemic rendered the idea of a 20-year vision as both ludicrous, as well as prescient, confirming the studies recommendations as being even more relevant heading into 2021, let alone 2032.

Here are some thoughts on how COVID-19, the dark crisis, has unintentionally created certain opportunities, as well as grounding what were previously called ‘trends’, but are now emerging as present-day realities.

1. Oral Health & Systemic Health

COVID -19 has in 10 short months, resulted in more conversations about the importance of overall health issues, vulnerability, immune systems, etc., then at any point in living memory. Central to that is the increasing wave of data regarding the linkage of one’s oral health to one’s overall systemic health.

COVID-19 has created a new awareness of why dentistry is a critical component of overall health. Research, published in no less than the ‘The Lancet’ indicate how inferior oral health is linked to higher levels of COVID-19 related complications , including death rates.

On a personal level, this increased awareness has shifted my perceptions of why my dentist and dental team are more than periodic inconveniences, to one of significant importance to my general health regimen and health status.

This to me, is an unintended gift and an enormous opportunity to expand the ‘reason why’ beyond the narrow confines of my ‘mouth’ to one governing a far broader and holistic purpose for regular visits and consultations. So why doesn’t the industry seize this opportunity to educate patients about the connection between our oral health, systemic health, immunology implications, etc.? I know procedures pay the bills, but your patients, your ‘consumers’ would welcome and appreciate being educated about the ‘why dentistry is so relevant’.

2. Technology Trends

Christopher Walken, the academy award actor and Hollywood icon was recently interviewed by Stephen Colbert. Colbert remarked, ‘Is it true you’ve never used a computer or cell phone’? ‘Why yes. You see at my age (77 years old), I just think it all passed me by, and I’m not comfortable knowing a 10-year old is more proficient at it than me. Besides it’s like a watch, you don’t need one. If you need to know the time, you just ask someone who has one’!

So like Mr. Walken, you aren’t wrong to delay or bypass the digital parade; but, the 10-year olds are coming. In fact, they are here.

Digital Tipping Point

The somewhat slow but inexorable march of technology within the practice, manufacturing and patient/consumer level is roughly at the same tipping point that smart phones and I-phones once were.

In other words, the span of 15-20 years of digital adoption (Scanners, CBCT, Milling, 3D printing, etc.) is not really a trend, it’s both inevitable and a reality.

Will all ‘analog’ procedures become obsolete? Of course not. But as the futurist Marshall McLuhan once offered in his famous TETRAD thesis – nothing is ever obsolete, it simply gets replaced or dominated by something else……the horse and buggy never disappeared, they just assumed a far less dominant position……trips through Central Park or the streets of New Orleans.

Remember, obsolete does noy mean non-existent, simply replaceable by a newer more dominant alternative.

“COVID-19 advanced the dental industry by 5 years in five months” – Robert P. Levin DDS, CEO of the Levin Group

3. Communications

COVID-19 is transforming the entire communications platform and will continue to do so forever.

The recognition that our entire paradigm of how we ‘talk to each other’, how we establish trusted relationships across digital chasms, and create networks of collaborative threads across dentistry, partners, patients and industry infrastructure will be the post COVID-19 legacy for future generations.

Workflow Implications

The digital capabilities of interfacing with the lab and the patient, often while still in the chair is a real-time level of efficiency, collaboration and first-class patient experience.

The analog reality, has been the accepted and reliable protocol for decades, but the digital, data driven world will allow dentists and their lab partners to envision new procedures, increased capacity and science-based accuracy, allowing for easy access and robust patient profiles managed over time.

I’m an older demographic, never questioning turnaround times, number of office visits, etc. But the wave of younger ‘consumers’ are very different. Their reality is digital communications, mobile phones, instant information and speed of service delivery expectations.

4. The Patient as Consumer

I’m going to enumerate a list of facts, but forget the facts and focus on the implications for how you brand your practice educates and informs your audiences. Today’s patients are more engaged, curious, demanding and have expectations, which will only increase over time. They will be equal and highly informed partners in the diagnostic, planning and approval process. Technology will not drive the decision-making process, but will be a determining driver and enabler for the human and trusted health care provider to guide the appropriate treatment recommendations.

I used to be an old-school, compliant fellow, sitting in the chair and pretty much accepting any and all suggested approaches to treating my mouth. No longer. The ability to research practice profiles, peer reviews (social media), and online articles on the various opportunities and/or risks are all part of a new wave of customers; customers whose loyalty you’ll have to earn, if their lifetime value is your goal.

But rather than lament this newly liberated consumer, embrace it as an open invitation to engage the person in the chair as an integral part of the relationship and planning process.

5. Marketing to the New Consumer

The following ‘stats’ are like a mirror…….they reflect whether or not your practices communications capabilities, functionality and compatibility are in synch with an increasingly digital and informed customer base. Comments in green are mine.

• Facebook is the #1 social media channel – 80% of patients utilize
– This is the playing field….in-house expertise or outsource?

• 50% agree, need quality of information for treatment plan benefits
– Visualize, demonstrate, bring it to life for them, they will engage

• 42% look for services/procedures offered when searching for a dentist
– Be more descriptive about your ‘menu’, expertise and benefits

• 72% follow a dentist on Facebook
– Don’t be shy….get someone whose savvy to help you build content

• 18% of patients want to see practice lifestyle/day-to day on social media
– It’s more about them and what’s in it for them

• 39% of patients want to see changes to the dental office on social media
– Highlight new equipment, staff, procedures, services

• 72% of patients would prefer their dentist perform specialized procedures over a specialist…..if they had the necessary training
– Expanding your portfolio? They’ll support you if you go there

• 56% agree ability of dentists or team member to explain/demonstrate benefits of a treatment key to case acceptance
– Who is your most skilled and trusted communicator?

• 65% of patients prefer to learn about new techniques/procedures from an in-office conversation
– Maybe the operatory isn’t the ideal setting?

• 44% of patients would consider writing an online review of dentist or staff if asked
– Ask! It’s a free and very influential marketing tool

Sources – Oral Health Magazine, Henry Schein, Inside Dentistry

6. Lifelong Education & Learning Opportunities

The traditional academic and conference style education formats will re-emerge, but the current reality is that online platforms will become as, or more prevalent. The implication of this is how online formats are constructed to suit the needs of the attendees.

On an individual or group basis, the most important issue will be the degree to which the chosen technology (Zoom, Webinar, Video Streaming, etc.) add the greatest interactive and added value knowledge, including hands-on practical experience.

The pace of technology advancements far outstrips the average practices ability to absorb them. This means ensuring you have partners, especially your lab who should be acting as your objective advocates, trainers and knowledge sources for investments in technology equipment i.e. digital scanners, materials, new product possibilities, etc.

“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education”
‘Mark Twain’

Mark Pigott – Schell Dental