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Within dental care, several fundamental and mutually reinforcing trends are driving many structural changes, and integrating advanced digital solutions will be necessary to stay ahead of the competition. The pace of consolidation in the dental chain has accelerated, however, as technological advances, lower-cost options, shortages of qualified staff, changing patient preferences and dental school curricula, as well as new treatment standards digital solutions. are accelerating the adoption of These advanced solutions will eventually cover the entire dental workflow, providing quantifiable benefits to dentists, technicians and – most importantly – patients. Ultimately, clinics that excel in digitalization will reap substantial benefits in terms of quality of outcomes as well as cost and time savings.
“Unlike labs, dental clinics have been slow to adopt digital solutions. Sales of intraoral scanners, which create a digital impression, have been growing recently, yet few dentists are using them. are.- Currently around 10-20% it is appropriate. says the technology is still in the early adoption phase.
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For years, dentists, nurses and dental technicians in small laboratories have been providing treatment and prosthetics primarily with analog tools and manual methods of working. Although early digital systems such as CAD/CAM were introduced in the 1980s and were quickly adopted by large laboratories due to their high volume and standardized procedures, they are still used by less than 20% of dental clinics in the United States. Used and CAD/CAM systems in Europe. (2018). Furthermore, information exchange and workflow between dentists and laboratories is still largely analog, and AI-assisted imaging solutions in general medical fields such as radiology or fertility have yet to make their breakthrough in dentistry. have not seen
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Dentists’ reluctance to embrace digital innovations in the past has had both economic and structural reasons: other areas of healthcare have experienced long-term stability, yet the dental care market has traditionally been—and still is— Also – highly fragmented. In Europe, private chains account for 15% of the total number of clinics in Great Britain, 8-10% in the Nordics and Spain, 8% in the Netherlands, while in Germany and France this share drops to a total of 1%. . Dental care market.
This fragmentation limits the ability of individual clinics to invest in advanced equipment, as starting a dental clinic involves a significant investment of €400-900 in facilities, basic equipment and consumables, as well as mid-level Efforts to recruit employees are included. As hygienists and nurses. Historically, the cost of advanced digital solutions such as scanning and milling devices has been too high and the level of usage too uncertain for most individual staff owners to pay, thus giving them limited incentive to invest. In addition, sole proprietorships generally exhibit a low level of professionalism in administration and documentation. However, these barriers and reservations towards change are slowly starting to give way and dentists are starting to adopt digital solutions in their workplace.
Over the next 5-10 years, adoption of digital innovation in dental care will be driven by seven fundamental, mutually reinforcing trends.
In dental laboratories, the formation of chains in the EU that started 10-15 years ago and the resulting consolidation, as well as low-cost offers from countries such as China, have increased investment in digital solutions such as CAD/CAM, competition. necessary to live in . This has dramatically changed the economics of running a dental laboratory.
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Recently, a similar trend has been observed in dental clinics, previously regional dental chains expanded throughout the European Union. Through private equity investment, the chain takes a more long-term strategic and business approach to growing dental care. The ability to access chain financing, specialized tasks and training workers are the main drivers behind the acceleration of digital technologies.
Additionally, as clinicians move up the value chain by opening or acquiring their own laboratories, they can improve the speed and accuracy of communication between multiple organizations while reducing the costs associated with administrative work. Through our involvement in recent transactions, we have seen the importance of strong IT and digital capabilities in demonstrating scope and delivering the equity story.
Over the past decades, the production of dental prosthetics and appliances has often been outsourced to low-cost countries. Yet with recent digital innovations, even mid-sized laboratories and dental clinics are able to achieve low cost and reasonable quality by in-house production on affordable entry-level hardware with high-quality software. . In addition, the current COVID-19 pandemic has greatly affected the supply and movement of dental products within and within the European Union, and we see this as another catalyst and leverage point for the adoption of CAD/CAM systems. We see. Reversing previous outsourcing decisions.
Strategic alliances between dental equipment and technology companies allow deeper integration with other software through APIs and the ability to adapt digital workflows to meet user needs. In support of this trend, many previously closed solutions such as CAD/CAM systems have been opened up to allow users to choose specific software and hardware more freely.
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In the last 5-10 years, we have seen remarkable advances in computer technology and the manufacturing of prosthetics, disrupting the entire dental workflow – from the way patients are diagnosed, to the design of prosthetics, to how surgery is performed. performed, plans and operations and how patient data is exchanged. and storage. Digital solutions are not only becoming more accessible, they also deliver consistently better and controllable results while greatly reducing time requirements. Treatments that were once too complicated or even impossible to obtain are now part of the daily routine. With more comfortable and personalized treatment, overall patient satisfaction will increase. Considering these advantages, the former solution becomes a viable alternative to analog methods or manufacturing outsourcing without unreasonable upfront investment.
Other big, long-term technological advances are AI and machine learning solutions. AI is expected to play an increasingly important role in dental applications and the automation of restoration design and manufacture, while these technologies will continue to improve their image analysis capabilities.
Dentists have long benefited from loyal patients, yet in line with patient demands, transparency regarding cost and quality of treatment increases and opportunities for advanced esthetic and orthodontic treatment increase. Where it was common to visit the dentist over several days or weeks to get an implant, dentists are now able to diagnose, plan and treat their patients in one or two sessions thanks to digital imaging and planning solutions. Digital workflows are made possible by increasing patient acceptance of – and – trust in, digital information storage.
Historically, educational institutions have only reluctantly included education on digital solutions such as CAD/CAM in their curricula. This reluctance has given way in recent years to studies proving better clinical outcomes with digital solutions and increasing demands from practitioners for students with prior experience using complex hardware and software. Also, students are becoming more open to digitizing important parts of their workplace due to overwhelmingly positive experiences testing digital solutions during their studies.
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Going forward, digital knowledge sharing tools will accelerate software usage among students, and active educational collaborations with dental technology companies will allow schools to acquire relevant competencies and skills.
In recent years, strict treatment guidelines recommend using digital solutions to ensure the quality of the result or product. When it comes to patient management, strict documentation and administrative requirements according to GDPR push dentists and laboratories to digitize the entire work and ensure information flow. One thing is clear: As technology advances, so will the rules and regulations for digital dentistry. This will have implications for both dental companies and practitioners as approval and validation processes for the use of products and equipment become more stringent and may not be possible using analogue processes alone.
As with many other healthcare professionals, qualified dentists and nurses are in short supply and demographic developments will increase this trend in the coming years, as 30% of all dentists in Europe are over the age of 55. are As a result, the adoption of digital technology will increase the productivity and efficiency of a small number of dentists. As older dentists retire and younger dentists enter the workforce, an additional knock-on effect will increase the use of digital solutions.
For an example of how digital solutions can help improve efficiency and address staff shortages, one need only look at how the radiologist shortage in the UK has been addressed: the shortage of local radiologists has has led to the outsourcing of image analysis through digital solutions. . The images are sent to radiologists living in countries with completely different time zones (eg Australia), the images are analyzed overnight with the help of analysis software, and the results of the analyzes are delivered to UK patients the next day. are given, so both speed up. Analysis and compensation for shortage of local radiologists.
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So the key question now is: How can dental players accelerate digital adoption and leverage the potential of advanced digital solutions to ensure comprehensive care and support across all interfaces of the care process?
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