A new world for preventive oral healthcare

What can we expect when we all go back to work after this pandemic fades? Same old or new normal?

The last time the world went upside down, the 2008-2009 financial crisis, visits by adults to the dental practice declined by some 30% in America. And it took ten years to get back to the level of visits before 2008.

During and after the last crisis, I conducted several surveys of dental patients sitting in the waiting room to find out their wishes and priorities. I found out it was all about avoiding dental surgery and minimizing cost and anxieties. So what did dental practices offer: implants, cosmetics, expensive restoration.

This time it has to be different if we are to survive and grow. First, the community is older and less able and willing to pay for expensive dental care. It will also visit less frequently. Second, employers and individuals may well have to pay more for drugs and medical services because the government will have major deficit budgets. There will be less corporate and personal income to pay for dental services. The dental plan could well shrink.

But there is an enormous opportunity facing oral healthcare. 10 years ago we had only an inkling that oral health was important to overall health. Today, we know it is. Controlled studies show that poor oral health contributes to unstable diabetes, COPD, stroke, CVD, systemic inflammation and even cognitive decline.

So, a viable, evidence-based and provocative route for recovering from the current economic and health crisis, is to improve the value proposition of preventive oral healthcare by linking it to better management of chronic diseases. For example, we know a diabetic will pay for new hygiene services which could improve their diabetes. An older adult is vitally interested in minimizing cognitive decline by way of improving their oral health.

This re-branding is, of course, a long way for tooth whitening and a regular dental cleaning. But then again, it seems the post-pandemic world has required change in most every service.