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2020 Will Bring Major Changes to the Oral Health Landscape

In many ways, oral health has been slower to change than other areas in health care. But as we start a new year, and a new decade, we can expect significant changes that will address the dental industry’s biggest challenges and fundamentally change the way Americans access oral health care.

Here are six things DentaQuest is watching on the oral health horizon in 2020.

The First U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Oral Health in 20 Years

It has been 20 years since the U.S. Office of the Surgeon General released its comprehensive report on the status of oral health in America. In Fall 2020, the Surgeon General plans to release its much anticipated follow up, and the whole industry will be watching to learn what has changed. The 2000 report showed significant disparities in oral health care, declaring that “what amounts to a ‘silent epidemic’ of dental and oral diseases is affecting some population groups.”

Three in four Americans report facing barriers to dental care. And half of patients are concerned about their oral health, making it the top health concern over heart, eye, digestive, mental, and skin health.

So, have we made much progress in 20 years? We know that technology, increased focus on prevention, and broader awareness of oral health as a core component of overall health have led to better outcomes. But it’s clear from our recent signature research, Reversible Decay: Oral Health is a Public Health Problem We Can Solve, there is still a lot of work to be done.


Disruptive Technology and Innovation

Technology will continue to be a disruptor. Oral health providers will increasingly use data-driven insights to make decisions. And the pressures we’ve seen in medicine to be more tech savvy in recent years will be coming to dentistry, as proven efforts like electronic health records will expand from medical to dental.

Remote access to care through teledentistry will also continue to grow, providing patients with greater access to dental care and resources. Online interaction with patients will improve and grow as dental providers engage more with patients on social media and other digital platforms.


Evolution of the Dental Workforce

As technology changes the way the oral health system operates, the dental workforce in 2020 will evolve more than it has in decades. Some states are making policy changes to expand the scope of practice for dental professionals like hygienists, who traditionally work directly with an on-site dentist. Hygienists are increasingly working on medical teams as the benefits of medical-dental integration become more clear. And as teledentistry grows, dental practitioners will have the ability to be remote and to connect with patients in new ways - whether digitally or in their communities.


Movement Toward Value-Based Care

The current customer base is changing, as a new generation of consumers prioritizes transparency and efficiency from their service providers. Oral health is no exception, and as the cost of overall health care continues to balloon, patients are focused on finding the best value for the increasing out-of-pocket costs that they must pay for dental services.

Our recent signature research showed that “52% of Americans view the current dental system as either scary, confusing, inconvenient or ineffective” and are looking for better solutions. More than half of employers also reported that they are interested in implementing value-based care models that prioritize healthy outcomes.


Greater Tools for Prevention

Most people already agree that preventive care is important (98% of dentists said this is key to improving overall health). Along with increasing recognition of the philosophy of “Preventistry” in the coming year, expect to see more prevention-focused tools for dentists - innovations that not only minimize the risks of tooth decay but in some cases even prevent or reverse it.

New compounds like silver diamine fluoride have changed the way dentists treat children, particularly those who do not have regular access to in-office care. Remineralizing creams that can reverse cavity activity in enamel are becoming more accessible. And we’ve seen increases in the use of different agents like arginine in toothpaste that helps promote good bacteria and decrease bad bacteria. All of these tools will make Preventistry more accessible and attainable for everyone.


The Push for a Public Adult Dental Benefit

As leaders tackle the complex challenge of increasing access to dental care, calls for an adult dental benefit in Medicare will continue to grow in 2020. Medicare has become the top payer in dentistry. Our recent Report on Medicaid Adult Dental Benefits shows that Medicaid enrollment increased by 57% in the last 10 years, rising from 48 million in 2008 to 75 million in 2018. It also showed that people who had the Medicare adult benefit not only attended the dentist more frequently, they spent less out of pocket. The average annual out-of-pocket cost for dental care was $196 for those covered by Medicaid, $283 for those with private medical coverage, and $466 for those who lack medical coverage.

Still, while many states have had success expanding benefits in 2019 and recent years, others have struggled, consistently running into political roadblocks. Not surprisingly, many of the questions and concerns come down to cost. But one thing both sides of the aisle agree on is that any expansion will be a value-based contract - not fee for service - emphasizing the increasing priorities of value-based care.


Fundamentally changing the way people access oral health care won’t be accomplished in just one year - but by focusing on Preventistry, value-based care, and increased access - 2020 will be a year of meaningful change and progress.