In the last 10–15 years, dentistry has seen a dramatic change in screening, diagnosing, and treating diseases of the oral cavity. These changes are a direct result of modern advancements in technology and innovative dentists in the field. Dentistry as a profession is expanding to include the airway, sleeping disorders, and other areas of growing concern. More recently, we’ve seen a shift in the overall view of dentists due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Interested in the changing landscape of dentistry? Here’s how trends in the economy, political landscape, and population, in addition to the pandemic, affect the profession and how to ensure the highest level of patient care.

The Economy, Political Landscape, and Growing Population

The modern economy is causing drastic shifts in healthcare and, more specifically, dentistry. For one, “payment for dental services is shifting from commercial dental insurance to public coverage and personal out-of-pocket payments. The implications point toward diminishing reimbursement for dental procedures, ultimately requiring practices to find avenues to become more efficient,” explains Inside Dentistry.

Those who lack assistance from insurance companies are less likely to attend regular doctor visits. In addition, out-of-pocket costs are incredibly high, so many individuals would much rather do without. Underneath, insurance companies ride the increasingly political landscape, becoming more exclusive, expensive, and unreasonable. On another note, the growing population means more patients per healthcare provider, far exceeding that which is reasonable, and increasing the need for more skilled dental professionals.

An Expanding Profession

Nearly one billion adults worldwide suffer from some form of sleep apnea, such as obstructive (OSA)—and many of them don’t even realize it. In fact, over 80 percent of sufferers remain undiagnosed, untreated, and therefore left to question why they experience constant exhaustion.

So, how can individuals with OSA ensure that they get enough sleep each night to prevent the onset of these issues? According to a study performed by Virginia Commonwealth University School of Dentistry, 76 percent of dentists screen for OSA. Even more intriguing, 60 percent of those who screen for OSA are doing so for less than 70 percent of their patients. Because the diagnosis and treatment of sleep apnea often fall into the hands of doctors, many dentists either do not realize they should be screening for the disorder or do not feel confident in their ability to do so.

The bottom line is that dentists are essential to the first line of screening and presenting treatment options for their patients with concerns regarding sleep and airway. By working together to address the sleep apnea epidemic, dentists and doctors can decrease undetected OSA rates. Not only will this help patients sleep better every night and improve their quality of life, but it may also help control several associated comorbidities.

Interestingly enough, there is a specific focus within the field on the rise called airway dentistry. Airway dentistry is a new and growing field focused on the mouth’s structure and how that impacts your breathing. They look for sleep-disordered breathing (SDB) by looking for signs of mouth breathing when you’re sleeping. Things like tooth wear, the position of your tongue, and the condition of the soft tissue in your mouth can speak to airway dentists. The goal is to prevent OSA, as that leads to more significant issues down the road. If you already have OSA, it’s time to stop it.

COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused dentists and other healthcare professionals to rethink their standard practices, heightening their focus on patient-centered care and safety protocols for their internal staff. For one, teledentistry has become a much more widely accepted method for annual check-ups, consultations, and routine visits. Teledentistry provides individuals with equal access to dental healthcare via technology. It’s accessible and cheaper, and it connects the patient with the professional quickly and simply.

Virtual appointments can include the following:

  • Reviewing insurance claims
  • Treatment consultations
  • Pre- and post-op instructions
  • Hygiene checks

The landscape of dentistry is changing rapidly. Various factors significantly affect how industry professionals interact with their patients, from trends in the economy, political landscape, and population to the pandemic.