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Look back 20 years, to 1998, at what dentists were doing in their clinical work and running their businesses. Now compare who and what dentists are doing today: the differences are mammoth.

Today, not only do most dentists need to be top clinicians — using the latest clinical technologies — they also need to be owners, leaders, marketers, human resource directors, and managers. Furthermore, they also need to be strong in IT and savvy in online social networks. But who will dentists be, and what will they be doing 20 years from now?

Dentistry 2032: The Future Report

Artificial intelligence (AI) will be doing nearly all the diagnosis and treatment planning. This not only includes restorative but smile analysis, TMJ and occlusion, as well as cosmetic recommendations.

  1. AI in orthodontics will displace the need for orthodontists, because diagnosis, treatment planning, indirectly bonded bracket placement, and wire bending will all be done by computer. A highly trained assistant can get the job done.
  2. Nearly all endodontics will be done by lasers and micro-robots will fill. The micro-robots will be in the shape of a handpiece, and they will know the number of canals, where the apex is located and the best material to use.
  3. Third-molar development will be aborted by injecting a material that operates locally, preventing the tooth bud from developing.
  4. Blockchain will be a powerful part of defining treatment plans based on the blocks (ledgers) of evidence-based data and best practices. The dentist will no longer be the professional, explaining a patient’s condition to them. Alexa or Siri will be their diagnostician — as well as their evidence-based treatment plan presenter — assisting them on selecting a dentist based on practice style, outcomes and value, payment options, insurance coverage and time requirements.
  5. Robotics place nearly all dental implants.
  6. AI will replace most administrative functions —  scheduling, confirming, insurance authorization, and finances.
  7. Waiting rooms will disappear from dental offices.
  8. Patients will be assigned a “dental app,” that will handle the administrative functions for patients.   
  9. 3-D printing will mill the three components of an implant: the fixture, the abutment and the prosthesis. All three components will be fabricated in-house, custom designed for the patient’s anatomy.
  10. Amniotic stem cells will be used to build bone and cover roots. That includes vertical bone growth, as well as biocompatible mesh for vertical and horizontal bone growth.
  11. Computer-controlled digital guidance systems for handpieces will be fully operable, so preparations can be done with strong computer guidance. Therefore, trained auxiliaries will be able to do restorative dentistry.
  12. Mid-level providers will deliver the basic procedures (bread-and-butter dentistry) in every state.
  13. Peptides for enamel regeneration will be on the market for particular lesions.
  14. Patients will be able to monitor their own dental-health status using their smartphones with a bluetooth intraoral scanner and their dental/dentist app.
  15. Dental offices will be highly integrated into primary care, and many diagnostic procedures that were previously done in the physician’s office or hospital will be done in the dental office.
  16. Dentists will be evaluated as to their effectiveness in closing the “dental care gap,” e.g. reducing the severity of diabetes in their patient population by having them do the necessary self-care and physician visits.
  17. Dentists will be judged and rated using clinical outcomes and the patient’s perceived value, as well as their rating at closing the “care gap.”
  18. Dental insurance will be a hybrid capitated model.
  19. Medical insurers will have dental insurance as part of their offerings.
  20. Most dentists will be salary-based employees. Incentives will be based on preventing disease, closing the dental care gap, and improving oral health in their patient population. Individual compensation based on revenues or collections will disappear.
  21. Fifty percent of hospitals will have dental clinics for the continuum of care, from pediatric to geriatric, as well as a place to send their ER patients with dental issues. Because of available dental treatments that help prevent disease, the reduction in cost to treat chronic diseases will more than make up for the money required to run the dental clinics.
  22. Solo dental practice will be less than 20 percent of practices in the U.S.
  23. Large DSO will dominate the market.
  24. Small- and medium-sized DSOs will consolidate.
  25. Sixty percent of the dentists practicing either part-time or full-time will be women.
  26. A much deeper commitment to “social good” will emerge, and the “for-profit” motive will still exist, but a more hybrid mission for doing good and doing well will dominate. This will be caused by the majority of dentists being millennials and Generation z-ers.

Who will dentists need to be to be in order to be successful under these conditions? The dentist of 2032 must have strong digital skills, which will be as important for dental students as spatial awareness is today. They will also need highly effective communication skills because the ability to communicate well with patients is a value-driver. The dentist must move from hierarchical leadership to a team-builder and team leader, and those skills will be evaluated when a personality profile assessment is added to their dental aptitude test (DATs).

With auxiliaries empowered to do much more of the restorative work, the dentist’s role will lean more toward a digital director of clinical care. AI, robots, and management companies will handle nearly all of the management and administrative duties.

This future is coming at the industry point-blank. The question we should ask: “How are dentists and their professional and political organizations engaging with this impending future?” How would you answer this question?

— Marc