Top 5 Dental Industry Trends of 2017 & How They Impact Dentists

POSTED BY Darren Griffin

The Top 5 Dental Industry Trends of 2017 & How They Impact Dentists…

If you’re a dental professional you’re probably already aware that the dental industry is changing at a rapid pace.  In this continually changing environment, it’s very important for dental providers to know what the emerging dental industry trends are and how they will shape the future of dentistry.

Some dental industry trends happening in 2017 will impact dentists no matter what they do – such as policy changes that affect federal and state dental programs like Medicaid and CHIP.  Other trends will require dental providers to be proactive in taking advantage of the new and improved ways to manage their offices – trends such as technology advancements would fall in this category.

Here are the top 5 trends happening within the dental industry today:

1.  Dental Support Organizations

Dental Support Organizations, also commonly called DSO’s, have been dominating the industry headlines for a couple years now and that continues to be true today.  The Association of Dental Support Organizations (The ADSO), defines a DSO as a company that contracts with dental practices to provide critical business management and support services including non-clinical operations.  There is a wide variety of DSO’s in the market today offering various partnership arrangements with the dentists and the dental offices they support.

According to this recent article by the American Dental Association (ADA), the ADA Healthy Policy Institute unveiled new data showing that 7.4% of all practicing dentists are affiliated with a DSO – but for new dentists ages 21-34 – that number doubles to 16.3 percent.  Additionally, the number of dentists affiliated with DSO’s varies widely by state as a result of differing legislative agendas states have enacted in response to the rise of DSO’s.  For the state breakdown, Arizona leads the way with 17.5% of all dentists being affiliated with DSO’s, followed by Texas at 15% and Indiana at 14.7%.

2.  Dental Student Debt

According to this article published by the American Dental Education Association (ADEA), the average debt per dental school graduating senior is $261,149.  The student loan debt crisis has resulted in DSO’s being a viable option for young dentists that have no interest burrowing themselves in more debt to open up a new office.  Considering the large number of young dentists graduating with student loan debt it’s easy to understand the itch these young dentists are having to affiliate with an established DSO once they finish school.

There are also a number of innovative products in the market today to help students ease the pain of student loan debt, such as Student Loan Genius, which offers graduates and their employer’s innovative ways to pay down student loan debt that recent grads are carrying into their career.

3.  Dental Insurance Reimbursement Rates

It’s no secret that dental insurance has had a stranglehold on dentists for many years.  It’s not uncommon to hear complaints from dentists about being stuck on the “dental insurance train” and not being able to get off.  These types of complaints are even more common to hear in 2017 as dental insurance companies continue to lower reimbursement rates for dentists in participating in their network.

For example, according to this article by the Boston Globe, Delta Dental of Massachusetts – the state’s largest dental insurer with over 2.2 million members – is cutting their PPO reimbursement rates by as much as 30 percent.  With the increased costs associated with running a dental practice and as many as half of a typical dental office’s patients carrying Delta insurance, the stakes are very high for dentists in Massachusetts.

Reimbursement rates from dental insurance companies in other states may not be falling as much as they are in Massachusetts, they are certainly not going up as dental insurers are feeling the squeeze from employers and individuals that want more value out of their dental insurance plans.  Delta Dental of California, Missouri, New Jersey and Connecticut are other states that have either lowered their reimbursement rates in the past few years or plan on lowering them in the future.

4.  In-House Dental Plans

According to this article released by the  National Association of Dental Plans (NADP), an astounding 114 million Americans have no dental coverage with 67.7 million under the age of 65 years old.  Additionally, according to the NADP report, The Haves and the Have-Nots: Consumers with and without Dental Benefits, Americans with dental benefits are more likely to go to the dentist, take their children to the dentist, receive restorative care and experience greater overall health.  Considering the facts the so many Americans don’t have a dental benefit and Americans that don’t have dental benefits are less likely to go to the dentist it’s imperative dentists have a viable solution for bridging the oral health gap between their patients with and without a dental plan.

Dentists needing to increase their case acceptance rates, services rendered and patient loyalty are now turning to In-House Dental Plans to better service and retain patients without a dental benefit.  There are a handful of companies in the market today that are offering dentists the ability to have their own proprietary, regulatory compliant and professionally administered In-House Dental Plan.

For years now, one of the companies leading the In-House Dental Plan revolution has been Ascension Dental, headquartered in Austin, TX.  Ascension Dental has been offering DSO’s and independent dentists custom solutions for the design, development, and administration of their offices’ In-House Dental Plan.  Dental offices that utilize Ascension Dental’s unique capabilities include North American Dental Group (Smile Care Savings Plan), Altius Dental (Fresh Dental Plan), Perfect Dental (Epic Dental Plan) and Made Ya Smile Dental, Smile Workshop, Community Dental Partners (TX Dental Plan).

5.  Cloud-Based Practice Management Software

The cool word in software these days is ‘cloud’.  You have probably heard the word associated with technologies across many industries.  Some popular cloud-based practice management software in the dental space today include Dentrix Ascend, a Henry Schein product, and Fuse, a Patterson Dental product.  Cloud-based software uses a network of remote servers hosted on the Internet to store, manage and process data, rather than on a local server.

What exactly does this mean for dentists using a cloud-based practice management software?  It means that dental offices do not have to maintain local servers or computers in their offices to run their practice management software program, instead, relying on a 3rd party to host their servers that can be accessed simply via the Internet.