Trends in Dentistry 2022
Digital adoption reaches a major milestone
Uncertain times have not slowed the adoption of technology among dentists. If the most significant entry point for digital dentistry among clinicians is intraoral impression scanning, a major milestone was surpassed in this year's Inside Dentistry readership survey because 52% of respondents reported that they use digital impression systems in their practices. It should be noted that these surveys, which have been conducted in each of the past 4 years, are collected digitally, so the data may be skewed toward more technologically savvy dentists. However, the progression of digital impression system usage from 36% of respondents in 2019 to 52% in 2022, including a massive jump from 43% in 2021, is certainly indicative of a major trend. With CAD/CAM software and fabrication technology continuing to open new possibilities, and newer dentists graduating from dental schools with experience in scanning, the only question seems to be just how rapidly this trend will continue to develop. "I believe that we will see more dentists using completely digital workflows to treatment plan cases from start to finish," says Melissa Seibert, DMD, host of the Dental Digest podcast.
Inside Dental Technology is honored once again to present the results of the annual Inside Dentistry surveys, with the intention of helping dental laboratories better understand their clients as they strategize for 2023. For more from these surveys, go to insidedentaltech.com/idttrends2022.
Technology on the Rise
Digital impression systems are not the only digital technology on the rise in 2022. The percentages of dentists who reported using lasers (45% this year, 36% in 2021), cone-beam computed tomography (CBCT) scanners (36% this year, 28% in 2021), electric handpieces (60% this year, 49% in 2021), and 3D printers (9% this year, 2% in 2021) all jumped dramatically in the 2022 survey as well. Earlier this year, IDT's Tech Issue reported on the arrival of 3D printed permanent crown materials (insidedentaltech.com/2022/07/the-printed-crown), and the ongoing material innovations in that realm could further accelerate the adoption of 3D printing in future years. "We have almost exhausted the limits of what we can do with subtractive manufacturing techniques," Seibert says. "Additive manufacturing is the future. We just are not completely there yet."
Looking forward to some of the next frontiers, dentists remain relatively skeptical of teledentistry and artificial intelligence (AI). Only 29% of the 2022 survey respondents reported that they have implemented or are open to teledentistry options, compared with 31% who indicated that they are not at all open to teledentistry. The remaining 41% indicated that they have not yet considered it but might be open to it. Similarly, only 33% of the 2022 survey respondents reported either integrating AI modules into their workflows or considering it, compared with 37% last year, and 16% remain steadfast that AI is not a fit for their practices. Seibert emphasizes that AI modules are merely tools that can help increase efficiency, especially in practices where staffing shortages have been an issue since the COVID-19 shutdown. "There is a lot of virtue in tools that can streamline operations and eliminate the need for staff to perform certain mindless tasks," she says. "Taking advantage of AI capabilities is the direction that we are going in the profession. Nobody wants to lose the human touch, but there are also so many menial tasks in dental practices that humans do not need to be doing."
Regarding technology as a whole, dentists seem to have picked up the pace of their willingness to invest with respect to pre-COVID levels. The percentage of responding dentists who reported devoting 15% or more of their yearly practice budget to purchasing new technology dipped from 56% in 2019 to 53% in 2020 and 47% in 2021; however, it is back up to 55% in this year's survey. "Investing in technology is a part of doing business," Seibert says, "and many patients expect to see the latest technology in the office." Although a number of group purchasing organizations, or buying groups, are available to help smaller practices get better prices when purchasing supplies, only 23% of the 2022 survey respondents reported that they utilize these resources, which is nearly identical to the percentage for each of the past 2 years. "Quite a few private practitioners just may not know about group purchasing opportunities," Seibert suggests.
Business and Clinical Trends
As lucrative as operating a dental practice can be—63% of the 2022 survey respondents reported a yearly practice net income of more than $350,000, which is up from 39% last year—the business of dentistry can be as complex as a full-arch rehabilitation. Declining insurance reimbursement rates, competition from dental service organizations (DSOs), and more are making it as important as ever to run an efficient practice. The percentage of dentists who report that they accept private insurance continues to linger in the mid-80s, coming in at 84% this year.
The majority of responding general practitioners surveyed reported that they place implants (61%), and of those, 19% reported that they do more than five implant cases per month. "Case selection, as well as the clinician's training and ability to handle complications during surgery, will always be important for implants." says Brian LeSage, DDS. "If general practitioners are well-trained, this is a nice service that they can provide—especially with today's guided surgery options."
The thing about trends in dentistry is that they are just that: trends. Paying attention to what others in the profession are doing is certainly worthwhile, but what is right for one practice—or even for the majority of them—is not necessarily right for all of them. When dental practices are well run, various models can prove both lucrative and rewarding, and productive relationships can be forged with laboratories.