From the ‘Zoom boom’ to face mask rules, the Dentistry Census has revealed a drastic rise in patients seeking orthodontic treatment since the pandemic.
There has been an upside to the pandemic with dentists reporting increased cosmetic treatment acceptance since the start of Covid-19 in 2020.
The most noticeable uptake is in the number of queries concerning orthodontic treatment.
This is according to FMC’s Dentistry Census – leaving no questions unanswered in dentistry – the biggest ever survey of dental professionals in the UK.
More than half of respondents reported a sharp increase in adult patients seeking aesthetic orthodontics (55%). Some 24% saw a rise in requests for more traditional orthodontic treatment.
The pandemic has seemingly fuelled patient desire for straighter smiles thanks to the ‘Zoom Boom’ phenomenon with time spent on video conferencing calls raising the public’s awareness of their smiles.
With numerous lockdowns, limits on socialising and the requirement to wear masks, the pandemic seemingly proved the perfect time for many to consider orthodontic treatment.
And although now flatlining amid a cost of living crisis, there is seemingly no let-up in demand.
Guy Deeming is a specialist orthodontist at Queensway Orthodontics in Billingham, Teeside, and a Diamond provider of Invisalign.
He’s seen a big uptake in orthodontic treatments and says he is ‘incredibly privileged to have been part of this most extraordinary rebound’ within dentistry.
Whilst noting that the economy and the global geopolitical situation has changed of late, he has experienced an increasing number of people coming through his door seeking teeth-straightening treatments.
He also believes more and more people are recognising the health benefits of orthodontics.
‘It should be reassuring to the profession that, regardless of any economic ups and downs, people value what we do – perhaps more so than they ever did.’
‘It’s amazing how restrictions on access heightened people’s awareness. I think there is certainly recognition, not only of the value of a healthy smile but also the value of somebody who’s there unconditionally to look after you in terms of oral health.’
He adds: ‘I am confident that people recognise the value of good quality dentistry and the value of orthodontic improvement in terms of function and smiles – more so than they ever did. And, despite the economic trials and tribulations, in the long term there is reason to be optimistic that we will continue to see growth across the sector.’
His experience is reflected at the clinic of Dr Zainab Al-Mukhtar, a dental surgeon and facial aesthetic practitioner. She has seen a rise in the number of patients seeking procedures across both areas. Her most popular treatments are Invisalign, composite veneers, facial contouring and non-surgical rhinoplasty.
She says: ‘I do believe the pandemic drove more people towards cosmetic treatments. Both are being sought by the same patients, but I personally don’t feel it will tail off very soon.’
When it came to adapting to the pandemic, 65% of respondents to the Dentistry Census said their practice implemented remote consultations due to Covid-19.
Moving forward, 39% anticipate keeping them as a key part of their patient experience.
Guy is among those who saw requests for digital consultations rocket and has subsequently carried out more than 1,000 virtual consultations.
He says: ‘The digital patient journey in orthodontics has been shown to be well accepted. I’m watching this space very closely. We have a number of sites across which we can communicate quite effectively to our community and there’s an acceptance that that’s how we go about doing business. We did do an audit a little while ago that looked at patient satisfaction and the majority of patients (around 80-90%) preferred doing things virtually.’
But he notes that orthodontic treatment might be a special case in point. ‘An orthodontic patient base tends to be more digitally savvy with lots of digital natives, Gen Z, millennials etc, so I think it works well for that audience.’
He adds: ‘As we continue to come through what is hopefully the last rumbles of the pandemic, people may wish to return to the face-to-face experience. However, I really like the virtual consultation as a starting point.
‘I think it works really well in terms of giving patients information where they’re engaged and listening. They generally don’t feel threatened in what can be perceived as a rather hostile dental environment.’
For him then, that initial virtual consultation is still key. But he also maintains that it is critical for clinicians to view the patient journey empathetically.
A fully digital journey
‘We should utilise technologies in harmony,’ he says. ‘Dental monitoring, chat bots on websites, social media direct messaging and so on should all be properly monitored and managed as part of a central communications hub.
‘They should be integrated into the workflow so the whole thing joins up in the same way it does when ordering online.
‘I think it is really important moving forwards to create a fully digital journey, particularly when you’re looking at millennials, Gen Z and Gen Alpha demographics.
‘A successful patient journey starts with a blank sheet of paper, not with buying gadgets and trying to bolt that onto what you already do. It starts by saying how good can this be and how good does this need to be in terms of making the dental experience work for our patients.
‘We need to take an empathetic perspective, all the time being mindful of appropriate monitoring and oral health examinations – these too are vital touch points.’
Teeth whitening, implants and veneers
An Oral Health Foundation and Philips survey last year revealed that 42% of people in the UK aspire to have a whiter smile. Some 33% are now more conscious of the colour of their teeth.
Meanwhile, the Dentistry Census confirmed that teeth whitening remains the most requested procedure in dentistry. Its popularity continues to grow, with 40% of respondents seeing an increase in demand. Therefore, video conferencing may again have sparked interest.
The attraction of dental implants reportedly also saw a rise in demand, with a 28% increase in bookings. With Europe’s dental implant market size expected to reach €1.4 billion by 2027, the ‘go to’ replacement procedure for teeth replacement grows more popular.
Also from the Census, responses suggest 22% of clinicians have experienced a rise in demand for veneers.
With an increasing awareness of facial aesthetics – and many practitioners supporting dental procedures with non-surgical cosmetic treatments – 15% of our respondents saw an increase in patient demand.
Seventy-two per cent of dentists said that restorative dentistry was a clinical interest. Minimally invasive dentistry was the focus for 41%, 39% said teeth whitening treatments, 28% endodontic and 27% orthodontic treatment. Implant dentistry ticked boxes for 22% of dentist respondents.
Interestingly only 25% had a treatment coordinator to manage the patient journey.
Guy notes: ‘We massively over-estimate the role of the lead clinician in every step of the patient journey. It’s important to utilise the skill sets, communication and enthusiasm of all members. They can support, underpin, manage and lead within their scope of practice.
‘The ability to delegate and then take a step back to see the overall picture is absolutely crucial in creating success for the individual and success for your practice.’
When it came to an investment in delivering these treatments, 58% of dentists reported spending up to £50,000 on capital equipment in the last three years. Some 25% splashed out to the tune of between £50,000 and £99,999 on updating their delivery with big ticket items.
Sixty-five per cent of respondents have already invested in an intraoral camera, often now seen as a key essential in many dental clinics.
We would like to thank all the dental professionals who took part in this research at such a challenging time. We would also like to thank DD for their support.
- The Dentistry Census is based on a survey of 816 dental professionals from across the four nations. It was undertaken from August – September 2021, in collaboration with DD using Surveymonkey to collect the data.
Catch up with previous Dentistry Census results
- Mental health worsened by the pandemic
- Dentistry risks losing one third of UK’s dental nurses in the next two years
- Is NHS dentistry on the brink of collapse or in need of reinvention?
Click here to download the full census.
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