The Future of Dentistry Summit 2020

Future of Dentistry SummitGuy Hiscott reports back from the first ever Future of Dentistry Summit, where the opportunities and challenges facing the profession came into the spotlight.

What happens when you bring together some of the brightest, most influential dental professionals to discuss the future of dentistry? 

The answer is simple: an insightful debate on the challenges and opportunities facing today’s profession.

No topic was off-limits at FMC’s, Colgate’s and marketing agency Catalyst’s invite-only event at London’s Sea Containers. The event, under the billing of the ‘Future of Dentistry Summit’, more than lived up to its name. Several key themes emerged as the evening wore on.

Dividing opinion

Unsurprisingly, social media quickly reared its head at the Future of Dentistry Summit as one of the biggest disrupting technologies within dentistry.

It almost divided opinion, drawing fire for skewing the expectations of patients and dentists. Even as others praised its role in opening up attitudes to cosmetic dentistry. The value of connecting with and educating people won out, however. A consensus gradually emerged, acknowledging social media as a tool like any other – is one that requires care to use appropriately. 

But the crowd was unanimous in one criticism of social media. This was the ease with which manufacturers market clinically unverified products and treatments direct to patients.

This quickly spiralled into another familiar topic: namely, the role of the General Dental Council (GDC). It became apparent that dentistry’s regulator still has a long way to go to win back the trust of the profession. Not helped perhaps by its own limitations. Why, asked the panel, is the GDC not able to pursue these purveyors of unsafe ‘dentistry’ instead of damning professionals for their record-keeping?

Opportunity and challenge

The ever-present threat of litigation and fitness to practise proceedings were not enough to pose a challenge to today’s clinicians. However, the long shadow of loneliness and professional isolation also continues to threaten.

Here too, social media came to the fore, with the room acknowledging how it helped people forge professional networks. This is despite the threat of trolls from within and without the profession.

Opinion was split over whether the profession’s changing demographic would affect the siloed nature of dentistry as time went on. But all agreed that change itself was the one constant of the profession.

Whether it’s the workforce, the NHS contract, or the technology supporting clinical care, almost every aspect of dentistry is in the middle of a state of flux.

Some of these changes spell opportunity for the clinicians of the future. And most prominent among them was the catalysing effect caused by digital dentistry.

A digital future

Digital dentistry emerged as a major force for change. Its ability to improve the patient experience and streamline clinical workflows enthused many of the panel. They agreed that the digital revolution was a force for good. But also one that needs basing on a solid clinical background to avoid de-skilling less experienced colleagues. 

The ongoing lack of clarity over NHS dentistry made for a far less enthusiastic reaction. With many clinicians forcing to acknowledge the difficulty of working within the health service.

But what remained clear was how strong a sense of duty many clinicians still feel towards the NHS, despite deep-rooted issues with remuneration, motivation, patient expectations and time that will feel familiar to many.

But it wasn’t all doom and gloom – just as it wasn’t all work. The conversations ran deep into the night after the summit officially closed, with opinions flowing as the cocktails that lubricated the conversation. One thing was clear: the profession’s future leaders still hold the passion and integrity that has served patients so well in earlier generations. With that on display, the future is looking bright.

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