What will the future of dentistry look like?

future of dentistryDentistry reports back from Denplan’s policy roundtable discussion that aimed to shed light on the issues facing UK professionals.

Denplan, part of Simplyhealth, held its inaugural virtual dental policy roundtable on 23 February. The future of dentistry and the issues impacting the dental profession were discussed. The event was attended by a group of clinicians, academics and policymakers from different areas of the profession.

Catherine Rutland, clinical director at Simplyhealth, chaired the event. Professor Avijit Banerjee of Kings College London, Sir Paul Beresford, Conservative MP for Mole Valley, Dr John Makin of the Dental Defence Union, Dr John Milne of the Care Quality Commission, Dr Hannah Woolnough of Parkview Dental Centre, Dr Lauren Harrhy of Sparkle Dental Centre, Dr Ian Mills of the Faculty of General Dental Practitioners, and Dr Raj Rattan MBE, dental director at Dental Protection all joined her.

Exposing divisions

According to the British Dental Association, over 19 million dental appointments were lost over the course of 2020.

Furthermore, Denplan’s dentist member survey revealed that nearly 70% said that they felt politicians and decision makers in government didn’t sufficiently understand the dentistry sector.

Catherine Rutland said: ‘The coronavirus pandemic has exposed – and in many cases exacerbated – the issues facing mixed and private dental practices across the UK. We all know from first-hand experience, that over the last 12 months practice teams have done tremendous work in meeting patient care needs and carrying out treatments under challenging circumstances.

‘However, given the large patient backlogs and the spotlight currently on dentistry, combined with the recent publication of the Department of Health and Social Care’s white paper on the future of healthcare, now is the window of opportunity for members of the dental profession, to make their voices heard and influence the policy agenda for the dental sector.’

The roundtable addressed a range of issues including the mental health and the wellbeing of dental teams. The training of the next generation of dentists and dental nurses also came up. Discussed, were innovations such as how digital technology is shaping the delivery of dental care.

Also, how oral health needs to find its rightful place in the sphere of general healthcare. They gave their thoughts on how the dental profession will transition to a post-COVID world.

Spotlight on mental health for dental teams

The difficult pandemic working conditions over the past year, combined with fast paced changes in regulations for practices, have resulted in mental health strains and deteriorating morale across dental teams.

Dental teams have also had to contend with taking on a certain level of risk of contracting the virus in their frontline roles.

Many practices have provided good support and mentoring throughout the pandemic. Although, in the cases of associates and dental nurses, there are indications they are feeling the pressures of the pandemic environment acutely.

This has been compounded by the fact that some dentists have suffered from a lack of support network in certain aspects.

Recruitment and retention of dental staff

The backlog in dental procedures has placed practices and dental teams under immense strain. However, they stated that an opportunity stands to reshape the delivery of dentistry to meet this challenge. This will allow wider practice teams the opportunity to step up as they have done throughout the pandemic.

Dental nurses, hygienists, and therapists perhaps have a larger role to play in the delivery of dental care. Work to clear procedure backlogs, patient demand for cosmetic treatments increase and the focus of public health policy shifts towards a more preventive approach to oral health.

The roundtable also said that the pandemic has led to a large spike in interest as nursing as a profession. The suggestion that the dental sector should take advantage of this opportunity to recruit young people was highlighted.

Technology in clinical dentistry

The increasing usage of digital technology within dentistry formed a key part of the roundtable discussion.

Denplan’s member research shows that one in four practices are providing virtual consultations. As well as this, one in five use digital impressions, and one in seven employ computer aided design and milling for indirect replacements.

Digital technology in dentistry is following the same path as the wider healthcare sector. Telemedicine, monitoring and diagnostics are increasingly becoming the norm.

Members of the roundtable echoed the view of many in the profession that there is great potential in digital technology. Potential to help facilitate a more person-centred approach to dentistry.

This approach moves beyond the physical confines of the dental chair to enable better dispensation of oral health advice. Also, the monitoring of chronic conditions and post-surgery check-ups.

One note of caution was that we should view technology as an enabler, not a solution.

Lobbying for the future

The difficulties and challenges continue for the dental sector. Denplan is optimistic about the power of the collective voice of the dental profession in raising these common themes. They aim to bring them to the immediate attention of MP’s and policymakers.

Denplan will likely play an integral part to lobby for the future of the profession. Denplan will publish its own white paper on the future of dentistry.    

This article first appeared in Dentistry magazine. You can read the latest issue here.

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