Innovation in Dentistry: The Biggest Breakthrough May Surprise You
It’s true innovation in dentistry has lagged behind the overall health industry, but as more people recognize that oral health is an integral part of overall health, we’re seeing bigger strides in the field. From newer technologies like 3D printing, telehealth-connected care teams, and smart toothbrushing apps and products, to alternative treatment options like silver diamine fluoride and Curodont that actually stop or reverse cavities, new oral care options are on the rise. And DentaQuest is working hard to address the innovation gap in oral health.
This is welcome news – technology and product evolution are big parts of the future of dentistry that could ultimately improve lives. We know, for example, that poor oral health is linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, pregnancy complications, cognitive decline, and many other serious medical conditions. In fact, more than 90 percent of all systemic diseases have oral manifestations.
So can we innovate our way to better oral health? Absolutely – just not in the way you might expect. Innovation is about more than technology and new products.
Among dentists themselves, the greatest opportunity for innovation, as it turns out, is to simply make it easier to access a dentist – through novel or sometimes even obvious ways. Whether to provide urgent or, better yet, preventive care, changes to improve access could well be one of the most innovative things we need to do – and Americans clearly want better care than they are getting. Because while most Americans want to see a dentist at least once a year, more than four in ten (43%) have not done so in the past twelve months, according to a new study commissioned by DentaQuest: Reversible Decay: Oral Health is a Public Health Problem We Can Solve.
Lack of access is a major barrier to better oral health in the U.S. But the majority of dentists we surveyed are working to overcome it – and the great news is that it happens to be the area where dentists are currently innovating the most. Nearly six of ten (58%) are focused on providing convenient access to dental care, according to the same study. And they are developing a range of solutions, from purely logistical to more procedural or even philosophical in nature.
One approach is to offer more care in more locations – schools, community centers, pharmacies, and workplaces are all likely locations where expanded care could be offered. There is general agreement among dentists and consumers that schools appear to be the most logical for expanding access to pediatric dentistry, while community centers are a good option for expanding access to both adult patients and children. Portable and mobile care units provide still more possibilities. And in places like Oregon, DentaQuest is pioneering teledentistry tools to empower dental teams to go into rural communities to deliver needed care.
Another approach is to address social determinants of health to facilitate care – in other words, identify assistance for transportation, child care, or other services patients might need so they are sure to keep their dental appointments.
Collaborative or integrated care is another sensible approach. By making it easier for healthcare professionals from all disciplines to work together, treating patients collaboratively and holistically, the quality of care as well as patient outcomes can be improved dramatically. And our research shows that the appetite for more integrated care is huge. Three-quarters of dentists (74%) and physicians (77%) believe that collaborative care teams improve patient outcomes. The SMILES Dental Project in Colorado is an example of how this can work in practice.
As a champion of innovation, I have a natural affinity for solutions that achieve what was once impossible: tapping the power of predictive analytics to yield better insights, identifying early stage cavities even before they can be picked up on an X-ray, targeting tooth decay without a drill, and rebuilding healthy tooth structure from the inside out.
Breaking down barriers and providing access to better care is not easy. The problem is complex, and there are many factors involved. But if we are capable of advances that are creative and life-changing, that achieve what was once impossible, what more might we do together? We can help all people find their path to improved oral and overall health.
Want to learn more? Read our research report, Reversible Decay: Oral Health is a Public Health Problem We Can Solve and my recent article, From Pain to Prevention - Why This Shift Matters to Me.