The future of dentistry – reasons to be cheerful?

Les Jones speaks to Bethany Rushworth about reasons to be optimistic, as well as the challenges that lie ahead

Technological changes, digitisation, contract reform, the rise of patients’ savviness and social media, and regulatory requirements. These are just some of the factors that could have an impact on the future of dentistry and shift not only in the way clinicians and dental teams operate and how they see their career path, but also the public’s perspective of the profession.

Of course, there’s no crystal ball to predict what exactly is in store for the profession, but there is the next best thing – a panel of peers discussing the issues. Bethany Rushworth, a young dentist in the early stages of her career, will be taking part in two Future of Dentistry panels at the British Dental Conference and Dentistry Show alongside others, including Chris Barrow, Prem-Pal Sehmi and Karl O’Higgins.

Ahead of the panels in May, I caught up with Bethany to hear some of her thoughts on the subject.

Les Jones (LJ): Do you think there is cause for the profession to be optimistic about the future in dentistry?

Bethany Rushworth (BR): Definitely! We are working in dentistry at an exciting time. There are brilliant new materials for us to work with and advancements in technology, allowing for more efficient workflows and increasingly comfortable experiences for our patients.

A lot of the current challenges for dentists are largely out of our control; for example, the seemingly litigious society we work in. We are all aware of it and can just do our best for patients and protect ourselves with appropriate indemnity, so I try not to focus on negatives like this that I can’t change.

I believe we are also in a time where we can have more fun with our work. Social media is a great way to share cases, learn from each other and promote our work, and it is also an opportunity to show patients behind the scenes of dentistry. We are able to point them towards helpful resources, videos, and websites and they can do research before starting treatments.

I also feel there has been a lot of media and public attention on the limited funds and resources within the NHS system, and patients seem to be increasingly accepting that certain treatments will not be covered on the NHS; for example, cosmetic work and tooth whitening. Of course, there will always be those who expect all treatment to be free, but I do think there is a general understanding among the public that dentists are working within a system that has a limited budget and some restrictions.

LJ: Based on your own experience, and what you hear from peers, what are the biggest concerns about a future working within dentistry and the challenges this may bring?

BR: It concerns me how it sometimes feels that dentists are expected to be superhuman and never make any mistakes at all, for fear of being sued or hauled up in front of the General Dental Council (GDC). I think we still have a long way to go in terms of changing the public’s perception of us as a profession. There are also a lot of misconceptions about treatment and what it involves.

While I do believe the internet helps us as a profession in many ways, it can also result in patients attending with preconceived ideas about what is possible – and it is easy for false information to be distributed.

Online whitening, ‘clip-on veneers’ and even online ‘no dental exam required’ aligner options are concerning me, as patients are comparing these treatment options and prices with those offered by dental professionals. Justifying to patients why we cannot provide a full mouth of veneers for £200, like the advert they saw on Facebook, while trying to educate them about the risks of these services can sometimes feel like a battle. 

I also think there are some challenges ahead long-term, regarding changes in the budgets and systems within the NHS. I anticipate more and more dentists will want to leave the NHS and work privately, and, ultimately, there may no longer be any NHS dentistry. Meanwhile, I expect NHS dentists will grow increasingly tired of contract reforms, ambiguous rules surrounding UDA claims, and having to adapt and work within a system in which the goalposts are frequently changed.

LJ: How do you think the dentists of the future see their careers progressing?

BR: From speaking to dental students, young dentists and colleagues there seems to be a common goal to ultimately end up working in private practice. There are several reasons for this, which I am hearing time and time again. In particular, freedom and fair remuneration.

The limitations of the NHS system regarding what can feasibly be offered to patients often causes frustration and, to some extent, a moral dilemma for dentists who may feel guilty about not being able to offer certain treatments on the NHS without either being investigated for it, or it coming out of their own pocket. It is quite easy to make a loss on cases, particularly more extensive plans. A couple of crowns later and a dentist can find themselves actually losing money for doing treatment.

LJ: What are your thoughts on digital dentistry and the impact this will have on the profession and patients?

BR: Personally, I feel lucky to be at the beginning of my career in dentistry when all these incredible developments are taking place and becoming more accessible to general dentists.

There is a learning curve ahead for dentists, technicians and auxiliary staff as we embrace a more digital era; however, I think it will be worth it in the long run.

Saving appointment time, material costs and shipping/transportation will have both financial, and even environmental benefits, as we will be creating less waste (for example, impressions and postage) and work can be completed without the middleman in many instances, again saving time and money for dentists.

I think it is amazing being able to show patients real-time images of their teeth and 3D images of their mouths.

I find it easier to educate my patients using modern equipment and technology, and they can be more involved in the planning process, while we design their smiles, restorations and preview orthodontic movement of the teeth before starting treatment.

Digital dentistry can also help us medicolegally, allowing us to save images and scans of patients’ teeth indefinitely, rather than trying to physically store models, which may break or be lost over time.

It also aids us during the consent process, enabling patients to see what we are talking about on screen and even see the outcome of treatment before starting.

Bethany will be speaking as part of two panel discussions on the Future of Dentistry. The panels will take place in the Dental Business Theatre presents ‘The big questions’ on Friday 17 May from 10am to 10.45am and on Saturday 18 May from 12.30pm to 1.15pm. For more information, visit

Dental Business Theatre presents ‘The big questions’

There will be a number of panel discussions running at the Dental Business Theatre, programmed by Practice Plan and sponsored by Wesleyan Bank, during both days of the British Dental Conference and Dentistry Show. They include ‘What next for NHS dentistry?’, ‘Maximise the value of your practice’, ‘HR and employment law’, and ‘CQC, compliance and complaints’ with speakers including John Milne, Eddie Crouch, Tony Kilcoyne, Simon Thackeray, Lisa Bainham, Sarah Buxton, Pat Langley, Farzeela Merali-Rupani, Alan Suggett and Andy McDougall.

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