AUTHOR: The Dental CFO
September 11, 2023
There are numerous challenges in running a dental practice, such as technological shifts, patient expectations, and an ever-evolving economic landscape — to name a few. In addition to the challenges dentists face on a clinician's front, managing a dental practice is also a test of one’s entrepreneurial spirit.
However, difficult periods can also lead to major successes when these challenges are properly addressed.
Opening a dental practice is only the first step, as the different stages of a dental career can also result in evolving business goals. Below, we describe the challenges that dentists can expect to experience in 2023 and beyond and what can be done to use them as a launchpad for practice growth.
Practice Recovery During an Economic Downturn
In the American Dentistry Association’s (ADA) most recent monthly panel survey of the economic outlook and emerging issues in dentistry, participants’ confidence in their dental practice and the dental care sector continues to decline.
Although participants cite an increased and consistent appointment schedule, practices are experiencing the same barriers to maintaining a full client load: patient no-shows and cancellations.
We recommend taking a comprehensive approach to tackle these challenges head-on.
Difficulty Finding New Patients
The foundation of what makes a dental practice successful is having a steady patient load, particularly if the patients are happy with their experience and will recommend you to others.
Whether you’re a new practice or have years of experience, today’s environment is challenging for attracting new and retaining existing patients. Several key factors can explain dental patient loss:
- Patients have relocated or transitioned to a work-from-home job
- Increased layoffs across multiple industries have left patients without employer-sponsored benefits
- Dental practices don’t have enough support staff to support prior patient volumes
How can dentists rise to the challenge of getting more patients in light of these shifts?
Patients will switch dental providers due to relocation, but losing dental coverage because of a career change is a major factor. Accepting additional insurance providers will help attract and retain more patients.
Additionally, offering discounts for cash payments can generate steady income from patients who don’t have dental insurance. Plus, not having insurance to bill results in less administrative burden.
Location and coverage notwithstanding, patients are more likely to switch dentists if they have a bad dental experience. The patient may choose to share their experience on social media and other outlets.
Today’s patient uses the internet for just about everything. Having a modern, easy-to-use website demonstrates credibility and authority in the dentistry field, which is crucial for running a successful dental practice today. Your website should be optimized for search engines, particularly local searches.
A dental practice’s digital strategy should also include social media and patient reviews. Create and share content relating to dental problems that your practice can resolve, and offer patients incentives to provide positive reviews and refer other patients.
Staffing Shortages Will Continue
According to the ADA dentistry survey mentioned above, only one-third of practices are recruiting new team members across every job function. Practices continue to cite dental hygienists as the most challenging position to recruit for.
With these former employees moving onto new employers or even new careers entirely, they didn’t wait around to get their old jobs back once patient volume began to slowly approach pre-pandemic levels.
Now that dental practices are back open, some offices are running with fewer clinical and support staff and experiencing high turnover rates. Smaller practices with one to three dentists are being impacted the hardest.
Hiring Strategies for Dental Practice Owners
Finding quality staff is one of the biggest challenges of running a dental practice. It’s compounded by the major risk of not being able to pay them long-term if patient billings and collections are insufficient to support their wages.
If patient volume isn’t where your practice needs it to be to justify having full-time and part-time employees, temporary staff can be introduced to your permanent team to make it through this adjustment period.
Flexible staffing arrangements with temp agencies ensure that your practice will always have the ideal headcount to make it through the number of appointments and procedures booked in a given month. Flexible staffing relieves your practice from the responsibility of paying for benefits, plus, temporary workers are only paid for the precise number of hours worked.
As your patient volume increases, temporary workers on-call can get your practice through the influx while ensuring your dental practice is still compliant with labor laws.
Teledentistry Continues to Rise
Telemedicine continues to evolve as a major and widely accepted part of doctors’ practices. Technology-driven care is now becoming more routine in the dental field as well, and teledentistry is expected to grow as time goes on.
Teledentistry not only closes gaps for patients who may have health or transportation issues that prevent them from attending follow-up appointments, but it also provides a contactless patient setting that prevents unnecessary trips. If the patient just needs medication or has questions about their procedure or aftercare, teledentistry saves strain on both patients and staff.
Ultimately, teledentistry delivers better experiences for patients while increasing revenue for the dental practice. However, teledentistry has additional nuances that differ from telemedicine.
Teledentistry Best Practices to Consider
National and local security and privacy regulations are important issues that dental practices must navigate now if they want to successfully start and maintain a teledentistry program. Having the proper equipment on hand is also integral for teledentistry to take off.
Since most patients are expecting to see teledentistry options, this is a modern challenge that dentists face and must adapt to in 2023 and beyond.
Corrective and Cosmetic Treatments Are in High Demand
Dentistry isn’t solely about routine care and preventing dental problems from becoming severe. How a person’s teeth look can affect their career, social and romantic life, and overall confidence.
The dental industry is projected to grow significantly in the coming years. According to Fortune Business Insights, the global dental market size will be valued at $65.23 billion by 2030. This growth is attributed to an increase in the number of patients seeking dental services, as well as the launch of new dental products that dentists can use. The American Dental Association projects a 10.4% growth rate in the number of dentists per capita between 2020 and 2040, suggesting the demand for dental services will continue to increase.
Cosmetic dentistry, which includes procedures such as teeth whitening, veneers, and aligner systems, is also increasing in popularity. While cosmetic dentistry is often associated with elective procedures, it can also be used for restorative procedures such as porcelain crowns, tooth veneers, and dental implants necessary for things like accidents and birth defects.
For instance, chipped or cracked teeth, small gaps or spaces between teeth, tooth discoloration and staining, misshapen teeth, and misaligned teeth can all be corrected using cosmetic dentistry procedures.
Dental practices that don’t make cosmetic treatments readily available will likely lose out to competitors. If your practice doesn’t offer corrective and cosmetic procedures, you could miss out on a significant revenue opportunity since the patients who desire these procedures are often willing and able to pay for them and prefer to work with dentists they know and trust.
New Dental Technology in 2023 Continues to Develop
Teledentistry isn’t the only major technology-driven change in the dental field. Tech-focused treatments are becoming far more common.
In addition to providing less invasive experiences for patients, new dental technology in 2023 is also reducing average dental practice overhead significantly while cutting down procedure times. This is especially true of dental fixtures like crowns and bridges since new technologies can create them much faster.
3D printing eliminates the long, laborious process of having to manually model dental fixtures. 3D printers for dental practices utilize resins and take far less time to make dentures, crowns, bridges, clear teeth aligners, and other dental fixtures, which is great for both the patients’ needs and cash flows.
Additionally, 3D printing makes implantology simpler and more accurate with the usage of virtual 3D plans that can be easily created on-screen and then transferred to the operative site.
While 3D printers require a financial investment and a learning curve, their long-term value is evident. Failure to adapt to 3D printing and other forms of “technology debt” could cause your practice to fall drastically behind other dental offices.
In the past, taking dental impressions involved patients biting into a standardized impression tray with runny polymer materials. Advancing digital innovations in dentistry allows practices to use a handheld scanner to create more accurate impressions with less discomfort for patients.
Taking digital impressions with a scanner gives dentists a more detailed picture of a patient’s teeth and gums, allowing more custom treatment plans worth smiling about.
Laser dentistry is a high-tech and less painful alternative to traditional procedures like fillings and gum tissue repair, which are invasive and often painful.
Laser dentistry is minimally invasive for both dental procedures and oral surgery, reducing the need for sutures and minimizing bleeding and discomfort. As a bonus, the patient heals quicker from laser procedures and has a reduced risk of post-op infection.
Lasers can even replace dental drills in some procedures, like tissue removal and reshaping and filling repairs.
Intraoral cameras are becoming a more effective way for practices to see patients’ mouths on a more detailed level than with manual inspection. These small, handheld devices are being used on routine checkups, restorative work, and cosmetic dentistry.
Intraoral cameras give dental professionals an edge by having the capability of accessing a clear image of traditionally difficult areas of the mouth. This increased visibility can lead to earlier diagnoses and less invasive treatment plans.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Augmented Intelligence (AuI) in the Dental Industry
AI is impacting every industry, and dentistry is no exception. The latest developments in dental AI/AuI applications help dentists improve diagnosis, treatment planning, and patient outcomes.
For general dentistry, AI/AuI can be applied to diagnostic materials (such as radiographic scans) to help dentists identify oral disease and develop treatment plans. This carries over to preventative and maintenance treatments — AI/AuI assessments can generate suggested treatments to maintain dental work and prevent future dental issues for patients.
AI is also being incorporated into Electronic Medical Systems (EMS) to allow for a more streamlined relationship with patients.
Achieving Reliable and Sustainable Dental Practice Growth
As dental professionals continue to care for their patients in an ever-evolving industry, adaptation is essential. Embracing new technology and treatments, adapting to what patients want, and adjusting to staffing needs will support long-term practice growth.
The Dental CFO is a premier dental practice consulting team that tailors long-term financial strategies for dental practices. Contact us today to discuss how our talented team can help take your practice success to the next level.