Two years and many innovations later, the pandemic has and will continue to have a profound impact on the way we practice dentistry. While many pandemic-related changes have been tragic, inconvenient, or even frustrating, the silver lining of it all is that some changes have been beneficial for the patient in terms of convenience, preference, and customization. The challenges of the times have spurred innovations or prompted policy updates that were long overdue across industries, and dentistry is no different.
This year, like the years before it, we will see more changes to dentistry—especially the locations in which we practice. Dental professionals and patients alike should gear up to expect smaller waiting rooms, digital consultation rooms, and a revitalized ortho atmosphere.
The pandemic has irrevocably changed how patients prefer to check in and wait for their appointments. As viral spread was a key issue for so long, offices adopted technology that allowed for remote check in and virtual waiting rooms – i.e. most patients were waiting to be called into their appointments from their own cars – making large waiting rooms obsolete.
This year and in coming years, we’ll see practice owners building or renovating offices and opting for smaller waiting rooms, reallocating that precious real estate to accommodate more operatories, space for CAT scans that will synchronize with 3D intraoral scanners and other diagnostic machinery, and in-office model building. Of course, we must always keep some space for waiting rooms, as not every patient will have a car or a comfortable place to wait for their appointments.
Another pandemic adoption that we expect to stick around is the digital consultation room because patients have become accustomed to it and even preferred it for certain applications. Namely, these digital consultation rooms serve as a convenient place to both provide remote treatment and monitoring and to conduct other important conversations. In all likelihood, remote treatment planning and presentations may become the norm among orthopedic and aesthetic dental practices moving forward.
Advancing technology makes this increasingly likely, as 3D scanners will replace the intraoral cameras currently in use, making virtual treatment even more effective and efficient. Having financial conversations within the four walls of a patient’s home can also help the patient feel more comfortable. For this reason, orthodontists see digital consultations as a key way to improve and support the patient journey across the board in the coming years.
Recall back to you or your kid’s days getting braces as a grade-schooler, and for many of us, this was a fun experience. The office was set up in such a way that the patients were usually together in a spacious room, chatting in-between adjustments and comparing braces color bands and such. For obvious reasons, this more communal/social experience was sacrificed for social distancing concerns via station barriers to prevent any potential viral spread.
In 2022, and with the significant decline in omicron variant cases, we will see many ortho offices become less socially distanced and more fun for kids again, pending community safety regulations and needs. This will have the benefit of enticing more parents and children to seek orthopedic care, which in some places has been neglected, as so much preventative care has been over the past two years.
One of the most constant aspects of dentistry is that practices change. It is heartening to see so many practices and providers rising to the challenge of the times to make the dental experience even better for patients despite the many curve balls the pandemic has thrown.
While some of these changes will be slow – practices can’t all build anew or remodel this year – they will make practices look and feel different, especially for the patients that have delayed care since the start of the pandemic. Best of all, these changes to waiting rooms, consultation rooms, and overall atmosphere are not only better for the patient, but create more convenient, comfortable work environments for dental providers and office staff as well.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Pinto’s private practice is focused on treatment of Lingual Orthodontics and clear aligners. He is currently featured in several orthodontic journals where he is writing specifically on topics related to lingual orthodontics. In addition to his publications, he has been teaching as a featured speaker in several orthodontic meetings lecturing on his innovative indirect bonding technique. Dr Pinto speaks fluent Spanish and French and has been lecturing nationally and internationally.
Dr Pinto has lectured in national orthodontics meetings such as American Association of Orthodontists (AAO), the American Lingual Orthodontic Association (ALOA) in Puerto Rico, and other national and international venues. He has been featured as a lingual expert on The Orthodontic Products Magazine for the past 2 years.
In addition to his involvement in academia and research, he has served as an Officer on the Health and Safety Board of the American Red Cross. Dr. Pinto is currently working to organize a mentorship program for students who are interested in pursuing a career in the dental field and co-sponsoring a medical /dental mission trip to South America.