The Covid-19 pandemic has presented new challenges for many of us—and the oral health industry is not an exemption to this. In fact, a dentist working in an oral health clinic is among the most vulnerable candidates to contract the virus via aerosol transmission. Not only that, but the entire way dentistry is operated, from payment models to patient interactions, has adopted new modes of practice over the course of the pandemic too.
There’s no question about it, the Covid-19 pandemic has and will continue to disrupt the traditional methods of dentistry. But, as with all industries, adapting to the new normal is a must for the industry to thrive. And with some of these adaptations, there have been new changes that are looking like they’re here to stay.
Here are some ways the pandemic has changed the oral health industry.
Introduction of Teledentistry
For many people in rural communities, there are physical and geographical barriers that make accessing the oral health industry difficult. At least compared to their city-dwelling counterparts.
Without access to oral health care facilities, these communities have a higher likelihood of having concerns about their dental hygiene. This includes a higher rate of dental decay, missing teeth, and oral infections—contributing to the decrease of quality of life in those regions.
But with the advent of the pandemic, there arose a new digital form of communication that makes contact between a dentist and patient much easier.
Teledentistry, also known as ‘telemedicine, is a manner of practice that digitally connects patients and providers despite geographical barriers. With the increase in demand for dental care from rural communities and other patients who are trying to circumvent physical barriers preventing access to dental services (such as disabled people), teledentistry has become one of the most popular and effective ways to treat and communicate with patients.
Teledentistry has become so commonplace that it’s practically revolutionizing how this industry conducts business. Common methods health professionals utilize telemedicine is through the following:
- Live Video
- Store-and-Forward (asynchronous)
- Remote Patient Monitoring
- Mobile Health
Telemedicine helps keep lower-risk patients at home (reducing the risk of exposure from COVID), helps prioritize critical-care patients, and provides clinical access to faraway patients.
The Emergence of Value-Based Care (VBC)
Before the pandemic, dentists get paid after they provide service to their clients. The term that encompasses “service” goes beyond working through the teeth and gums; it also includes everything surrounding the experience, from documentation, policies, communication, staffing, and workflow. In other words, this implementation of care tends to be based on volume rather than value.
But with value-based care, it’s looking to bring back the focus on the output. This procedure aims to focus on delivering quality outcomes rather than padding up expenses with unnecessary frills. This approach will therefore incentivize personalization and more focus on helping customers at a lower cost.
However, it’s still a very new approach, with over 51% of dentists not even familiar with VBC. More dentists will still have to adopt new technology and a better understanding of this type of infrastructure. Regardless, for what it’s worth, this approach has the potency to transform communities and create a model that serves the customer first.
Focus on Preventing Aerosol-generating Dental Procedures
Preventing COVID-19 from spreading is a priority across all health facilities. Considering the highly airborne nature of the virus, new opportunities are critical to promoting the health and wellbeing of the patients and providers.
Locked in homes, the dental health paradigm has focused more on preventative measures. This includes the reduction or avoidance of tobacco and alcohol, the promotion of topical fluorides, the promotion of oral health in group-based settings, and advocating for better diets that are low-sugar.
In the clinic, various materials are promoted to substitute past aerosol-transmitting resources. These better materials include dental resin sealants, silver diamine fluoride, sodium fluoride varnish, and other self-applied topical fluorides.
By following these protocols, there’s a reduced risk of airborne COVID-19 transmission among patients and providers.
A Plunge in Revenue for Dentists
During the height of the lockdown, dentists worried about the prospect of not being able to make a full-time living with the COVID-19 scare locking people away in the safety of their homes. And these worries were justifiable. According to a report by the Oral Health Group, 46% of dentists say that the drop of revenue was the single biggest hit of the pandemic to their practice.
For the year following after, there are still mixed opinions among the dentist community over the prospect of being able to match pre-pandemic levels of revenue. One year later, around 25% of dentists believed that they’ll experience higher production levels this year compared to the last, while about 40% believe that it will be their greatest struggle.
Furthermore, 50% of the dentists surveyed foresee that their production level will stay the same the year after the initial lockdowns.
While the pandemic is still not over one year after the start of the crisis, it need not be said that dentists have found ways to adapt and succeed despite the hardships. There’s also been some silver lining of the pandemic on the dentists—with 21% of them reporting that staying with their family was a positive takeaway from the experience.
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