7 Dental Industry Trends For 2017 & What They Mean For Practice Growth
This post was originally published August 13, 2015, and extensively updated January 23rd, 2017.
The healthcare market is continually changing, and dentistry is no exception. For dentists to maximize their patient retention and patient generation, it’s necessary to stay on top of dental industry trends and changes so you can stay one step ahead of the competition.
There are some changes that will affect you no matter what you do — such as nation-wide policies affecting dental insurance. Other changes, like technological trends, will require you to take action in order to keep your dental practice competitive.
Here are the seven major trends influencing today’s dental industry, and what they mean for your ability to attract and keep patients.
1. The Rise of Group Practices
One major change in the dental industry in recent years has been, and will continue to be, the rise of the group practice. In the past, it was more common for dentists to open up a solo practice or maybe have one partner, but group practices are becoming increasingly common.
According to dentist and practice management consultant Dr. Marc B. Cooper, as interviewed by Dental Products Report, 86% of dentists still practice solo, but this figure is shrinking. Rising costs and the growing influence of PPOs and third parties are some reasons for this trend. Student loan debt — averaging $221,000 for graduating dentists — is another huge factor. Average educational indebtedness of graduating dental students has increased an average of 3.7% annually.
According to The Dental Geek, 41% of all graduating dentists say student loan debt influences their practice choice, making them more likely join a group practice than establish a solo practice.
Although a solo practice is not for everyone, it’s not all bad either. In terms of patient generation and retention, you can benefit from an established patient base of the practice you’re joining. A larger organization will also have resources for dental marketing (i.e., more capital), which means you’ll have more cash power to devote to attracting new patients.
Dr. Marc B. Cooper (in an interview with Dental Practice Management) says dentists should embrace this inevitable trend:
When the future is coming at you point blank and you have a hundred years of solo practice, there’s a certain reaction and that’s usually shock and anger to this oncoming onslaught of change. But right now, I think we’re at the level of acceptance because of the pressure, economics, government, and influence of third parties and PPO, that group practice is the solution.
2. Un- and Underinsured Patients
Most health insurance plans sponsored by the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. “Obamacare”) do not include dental insurance. However, Obamacare does affect the dental industry, particularly in terms of children’s dental insurance.
Specifically, Obamacare health insurance plans offered to children must include dental coverage. As a result of this healthcare reform, demand for pediatric dental services have increased.
But now the trend may be heading in the other direction. President Trump has already started signing executive orders to roll back aspects of Obamacare. So far, children’s dental insurance hasn’t been affected, but it likely will.
Politics aside, the number of people seeking dental treatment without insurance has been high for years, especially for older demographics:
How can dentists adapt to this industry change? Regardless if they have coverage or not, most parents are keen to take care of their child’s dental needs. So your job is to make it as easy as possible for them to do this.
Make sure to advertise a variety of payment options for people who don’t have full insurance coverage, such as a special credit program or incremental payments. You can also offer special discounts for patients who pay in advance. Many parents are unaware that these options are available. According to one survey, more than half of patients are unaware that financing options are available. So be sure to send out notices in your newsletters and include special offers in your advertisements.
For many, cost is the biggest determining factor for not going to the dentist, more than any other industry:
Advertise your dental services and make it clear on your dental website which forms of insurance and payment your practice will accept. This can help decrease patient loss from lack of insurance.
3. Dental Patients Are Pickier Consumers
Today’s consumers are highly discerning, and this applies as much to healthcare as anything else.
In an interview with Becker’s Dental Review, Aspen Dental Management Chief Marketing Officer Mark Censoprano says that increasing consumerism is one of the biggest trends he sees in the dental industry.
“Patients today have the same expectations for their dental care that they have for other areas of their life – and as a result of the recession, they are more cautious with their hard-earned dollars, which unfortunately is leading to a decline in dental visits among adults. They've also become more vocal about what they want in their dental care experience,” says Censoprano.
Patients today have the same expectations for their dental care that they have for other areas of their life – and as a result of the recession, they are more cautious with their hard-earned dollars, which unfortunately is leading to a decline in dental visits among adults. They've also become more vocal about what they want in their dental care experience.
In the age of Google, patients are also more educated than ever before. They are able to do independent research of their dental symptoms and treatments, and they can also evaluate the online reputation of your practice and your competitors’.
All demographics of dental patients spend at least some time researching dental practices online:
Thanks to this trend, dental patients are super-smart, super-picky consumers, and you need to work super-hard to earn their business. One thing you can do to maximize patient retention and generation in today’s consumer-driven dental marketplace is actively manage your online reputation. Learn 10 Ways a Dentist Can Build an Amazing Reputation Online.
4. Increasing Digitization of Dentistry
Technology is one dental trend you absolutely cannot ignore. As more dentists adopt new dental technologies, from digital X-rays to electronic health records, you need to do the same in order to stay competitive.
In particular, according to Andrew Koenigsberg, DDS, technologies like chairside milling, CEREC crowns, and digital workflows will continue to impact the industry in the coming years.
According to this article Dr. Jeff Rohde, DDS, MS, some other technologies dental practices are embracing include:
- CAD/CAM dentistry
- Guided surgery
- 3D ConeBeam Imaging
- Electronic statements and insurance claims
Dean E. Kois, DMD, MSD spoke to Inside Dentistry about the benefits of new technologies:
Dental technology advances are helping to reduce failures by minimizing material failure. In addition, technologies that provide better diagnostic metrics allow clinicians to move towards ‘precision medicine,’ which will create a more predictable dental healthcare model,” Kois says. “However, I will never be an early adopter of any trend without good science to support change in my practice. However, I will never be an early adopter of any trend without good science to support change in my practice.
In addition to updating to the latest dental technologies, dentists also need to leverage these upgrades to attract patients. Be sure to advertise on your website that your office uses the most advanced dental technologies, and list the specific high-tech processes you use.
Technology is one dental trend you absolutely cannot ignore.
5. The Great Gender Shift
The final trend we see in dentistry is a major shakeup in dentist demographics, as the once male-dominated industry becomes more female-dominated. This won’t necessarily directly affect your practice (whether you’re male or female), but it will likely contribute to the overall trend of group practices vs. solo practices.
From this AEGIS Communications article, here are some statistics on this trend:
- The percentage ratio of females to males enrolling in US dental schools is approaching 50%
- The percentage of females currently practicing dentistry has risen to more than 20% of the total number of practicing dentists
- 60% of practicing dentists under the age of 44 are women
Given that the majority of younger dentists are women, this means that as older dentists retire, dentistry will be female-dominated as an industry. In fact, this will happen a lot sooner than you might think — according to The Dental Geek, the majority of practicing dentists will be women by the year 2020.
Some experts speculate that the primary impact of this trend will likely be more group practices, as female dentists generally work fewer hours than male dentists, and being part of a group practice allows a dentist to work part-time.
According to the above mentioned AEGIS Communications article, a 2013 ADA survey shows the following:
- New female dental school graduates are more likely to work part-time or less than 30 hours a week compared to their male counterparts
- Of those new practicing dentists surveyed by the ADA, 36% of men and 53% of women said they would be less prone to establish a solo practice
The expected impact of fewer solo practices means a couple things for your dental practice — 1) You might consider the benefits a solo practice yourself, or 2) if you already have a solo practice, you can potentially advertise the individualized care and attention you give patients as a major selling point.
6. Adults Need Convincing
Educating patients about the importance of regular dental treatment is an important obligation of your dental practice.
According to the Health Policy Institute of the American Dental Association, the percentage of children who’ve had a dental visit in the past year has risen between 2000-2013. For adults (age 19-64), the percentage has seen a sharp decline:
A little more than 35% of adults feel the need to visit the dentist annually. This is bad for overall oral health for people in the US, and bad for business. It’s your job to encourage adults to:
- Schedule regular cleanings
- Keep appointments
- Accept treatment when problems arise
So how can you do this?
Take a look at the common reasons why adults avoid the dentist:
Cost is the biggest factor, which we discussed earlier. Implement a variety of payment options and advertise them to encourage adults to come in. One survey found that Millennials (which make up much of the adult population today) are most likely to seek out dental treatment using “daily deals” sites based on cost. Posting specials on one of these sites is a great way to attract first time patients.
But that’s far from the end of it. Look at the second most common reason adults avoid the dentist: They think they don’t need dental care. That’s also your job to fix. Take steps to encourage patient acceptance for proposed treatments by:
- Having a formalized treatment presentation
- Explaining the potential health risks of not receiving treatment
- Pointing out that the treatment could become more costly if they wait
- Follow up on patients with unscheduled treatment.
7. The Need for Niche Dentistry
The landscape of dental marketing has changed completely in recent years. Many more dental students are graduating and opening their own practices every year. As a result, some towns seem to have dental offices on every block.
So what can you do to beat out the competition and make sure potential patients pick you?
The answer is niche dentistry.
According to the American Dental Association, the number of general practice dentists without enough work has risen over the years:
But the number of specialist dentists without enough work has gone down.
So you can either start offering a specialty at your office, or find another way to set yourself apart from the crowd. Find a “niche” and incorporate it into your marketing plan to show potential patients you’re the best option out there for:
- Pediatric dentistry
- Senior dentistry
- Luxury service
- Or another area
Bonus: Dental Patient Trends
Finally, let’s take a look at some dental trends from a patient perspective. By better understanding your patients, you can deliver what they want and thereby enhance your patient retention. Here are some patient trends reported by this DentistryiQ article:
- Most appointments are booked online between 11:30 AM-12:00 PM
- Female patients leave less extreme dental practice reviews
- Male patients are more forgiving about longer wait times
- Most same-day appointments are booked on Monday (making Monday a great day to leave partially open for last-minute appointments)
- The most popular day to book appointments is Tuesday, while Friday is the least popular
- January is the most popular month to make appointments
- Seattle offers patients the shortest in-office wait time, while Fort Myers has the longest
- The top three markets where patients book the most dental appointments are San Francisco, Seattle, and Philadelphia
Dental patient trends (Image source)
Whether you want to get more first-time dental patients in the door, or you struggle to retain patients, it’s important that you are aware of the trends that shape the dental industry. As a marketer for dentists, I see that the practices who are willing to change things up in terms of their marketing and in other areas are the ones who are most successful at attracting and retaining patients.
Do you need help keeping your website and other dental marketing materials current to reflect and capitalize on industry trends? Click the button below for a free, no-pressure consultation to help you figure out how to modernize your dental marketing strategy and start expanding that patient base.