By Genni Burkhart
As we look ahead to 2022, we're reminded how dramatically life has changed since we rang in the 2020 New Year in what feels like ages ago. Throughout much of 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic continued to dominate, testing our resolve to endure a virus that seems determined to disrupt and devastate every way of life. Given our increased perspective and yet another variant of concern, we see that perhaps, life will never return to how it was "before." While there's much to lament in facing this realization, oral healthcare has experienced a tremendous amount of growth since the onset of the pandemic, requiring dental professionals to stay apprised of the latest technology, strategies, and trends in preparation for a new year and without a doubt, new developments.
Lingering Staffing Issues
As we noted in a previous Incisor article on combating the labor shortage, dentistry hasn't been immune to the lingering staffing issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The American Dental Association (ADA) highlights this with data from a November 2021 COVID-19 Economic Impact on Dental Practice poll conducted by the ADA Health Policy Institute. Some key points indicate that:
- Patient volume has rebounded to around 91 percent of what it was pre-pandemic, marking the highest number since polling began in March 2020. However, one in three owner-dentists reports a need to hire more staff to care for the rising number of patients.
- Thirty-five percent of hiring dentists are currently (or recently were) recruiting dental hygienists.
- Forty percent of hiring dentists report actively recruiting dental assistants. Of those, nine out of 10 indicate it's been highly challenging to recruit dental hygienists and dental assistants when compared to hiring before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Further Advances in Technology
Technology will continue to shape the future of dentistry, with exciting new innovations on the horizon capable of transforming nearly every aspect of practice management, patient care, cosmetic procedures, and reconstructive surgery. This includes everything from augmented reality, used in clinical and educational settings, to 3D printing which avoids the backlog of manual modeling and provides patients with fully effective crowns and bridges much faster than traditional routes.
2022 practice management tech trends include the use of chatbots and appointment setting software which can provide a competitive edge by enhancing patient communications. Chatbots are used in healthcare to quickly answer patient questions by streamlining inquiries, thereby saving valuable time for staff and increasing patient satisfaction.
Appointment confirmation software is expected to enhance integration capabilities with online payment systems, teledentistry, and dental software this year as well.
According to the for-profit Eco-Dentistry Association, U.S. dental practices discard approximately 1.7 billion sterilization pouches and 680 million patient barriers into landfills every year.
Fortunately, many of the latest innovations in dental technology happen to be better for patients, the planet, and the dentist's bottom line. These innovations look to make it increasingly easier and financially beneficial for dental practices to reduce their carbon footprint and excessive waste problem. Patients in turn are becoming increasingly more attracted to practices that are environmentally responsible. Effectively reducing waste in dental practices is possible, and in 2022 this opportunity will grow to accommodate the growing trend of "green dentistry."
Multiple Office Ownership
The trend of shared office ownership is expected to increase in 2022, according to Henry Schein Dental Practice Transitions. This growth will go well beyond Dental Support Organizations as the drive is coming from younger, private practitioners with an entrepreneurial desire to own multiple practices for the purpose of selling those networks at a higher price in the future.
Evolving Social Media Marketing
According to a 2021 report by the Pew Research Center, the only two social platforms that saw significant growth since they last polled in 2019 were YouTube and Reddit. 2021 saw multiple changes to the algorithms and formats of many social media platforms, causing consequences for businesses who rely on them for marketing purposes. In 2022, businesses are expected to continue their recovery from the evolution of these platforms. Facebook (changing its name to Meta last year) and YouTube remain the largest platforms, meaning dentists should look towards video marketing for their practice, as most social media platforms are shifting towards this format.
According to an article by Entrepreneur Magazine, business marketing will require business owners to take risks, invest in branding their business, and better listen to their customers, perhaps more so than ever before. Engaging with customers online and producing effective social media marketing is seen as essential to keeping up with the competition. In 2022 video marketing is where all marketing is headed and is now seen as increasingly vital to a successful marketing plan.
As we review the trends in what's ahead for dentistry in 2022, the focus appears to be on the overall patient experience and how well practices can effectively communicate with their long-time, new, and potential patients. From the entire process of the patient experience–before, during, and after –dentists will need to keep up with the evolving technology used in treating, managing, and communicating with patients that have growing demands and higher expectations from their dentist.
Author: With over 12 years as a published journalist, editor, and writer Genni’s career has spanned across technology, politics, healthcare, law, business finance, and the media. She resides on the idyllic western shores of the Puget Sound where she works as the Editor in Chief at DOCS Education out of Seattle, WA.