Daniel J. Klemmedson, DDS, MD, will take the reins of the ADA when he assumes the presidency of the 161,000-member organization in September. The oral and maxillofacial surgeon recently shared his goals for his office and his perspectives on the profession with Dentistry Today.
Q: What are the biggest clinical challenges now facing dentistry?
A: Transitioning from analog techniques to digital technology in clinical dentistry, practice management, and patient communication will produce hurdles that all dentists will have to navigate. Consumerism, driven by patients, will accelerate these changes. Advances in dental materials and digital workflow from diagnosis to fabrication have given tools to dentists to meet higher expectations from patients.
A similar innovative transformation is necessary on the business side of the dental industry. Real-time interactions between dental offices, payers, and patients is a must. Innovative benefit models that provide options to patients and employers while respecting the doctor-patient relationship will have to evolve.
Patients demand a healthcare experience that can be managed from their smartphone. Resources are necessary to make this happen. The tug-of-war that exists between dentists, employers, and payers relative to reimbursement will not go away. Neither will efforts by the ADA to advocate for all dentists and their patients.
Q: What are the greatest professional challenges now facing dentists?
A: A significant challenge for our profession remains developing solutions to address the disparities between disease prevalence, demand, and treatment. The fact that a significant proportion of our population does not have an annual visit with a dentist is troubling.
Trends are unchanged or worsening in many segments and is true even for those with dental benefits or financial means. Despite the fact that nearly 90% of children have dental benefits, early childhood caries remains an area where we should do better.
The aging of our population, made possible by improved treatment of chronic disease, exposes us to a new high caries cohort. Efforts that the profession has made to address early childhood caries will also be applicable for our geriatric population. Rising expectations from patients, advocates, and society in general will demand more of the dental profession. Solutions will benefit us all.
Q: What technologies are having the greatest impact on dental practices today?
A: Technology-driven clinical care, dental materials, and communication are evolving constantly. This drives clinical care, continuing education, business development, and, obviously, business expense. Dentists will need to learn how to maintain quality care in an environment that demands convenience and quality at cost. Technological developments will allow this to happen.
Imaging and scanning technologies expand our diagnostic capabilities. These technologies will soon be complemented by machine learning-augmented intelligence. Computer-aided design and fabrication enable additional clinical options. Dental materials continue to evolve. Pharmacologic management of caries, particularly in early childhood and geriatric populations, will decrease the need and associated risks and costs of more invasive treatment.
It is an exciting time to be a dentist but one that requires a commitment to the education necessary to stay abreast of change.
Q: Are there any other important trends now having an impact on the way that dentists practice?
A: I believe the trend towards group or consolidated practices will continue. This is driven by economic forces within dentistry and in the venture capital community, demographic changes, and professional choices.
Pressures to reduce reimbursements being driven by plan purchasers through third-party payers will continue forcing dentists to make difficult decisions balancing the doctor-patient relationship, delivering quality care while achieving success in their chosen practice model.
Patients, the recipients of our care, will demand the conveniences commonplace in other areas of their lives. They will also recognize the relationship between quality of care and their employer-provided benefits and force equitable changes in benefit options.
Q: As access to care continues to be debated, what strategies do you feel would be most effective in reaching the underserved?
A: The ADA addressed this very effectively in 2011 with a series called “Breaking Down Barriers to Oral Health for All Americans.” Factors identified at the time including poverty, geography, lack of oral health education, language or cultural barriers, fear of dental care, and the belief that those not in pain do not need dental care have not changed.
The ADA said it well: “Ultimately, education and prevention will be the linchpins in eliminating, or at least minimizing untreated dental disease. These signs will mark the birth of the first generation that could grow up essentially free of dental disease: when the day comes that we as a nation decide that oral health is a national priority and provide education to all families of newborns, expand public health measures such as community fluoridation, and provide a dental home to every child. Until that occurs, the nation will be challenged to meet the needs for preventive and restorative care among large numbers of Americans who do not have dental coverage, cannot afford care or face other barriers that block them from seeking regular oral care and dental visits.”
It is time for all stakeholders to collectively work for these ideals, not invent new ones.
Q: What do today’s dental students and young dentists need most for a long and successful career?
A: Practice opportunities that allow individuals to meet professional, personal, and financial goals. This may be easier said than done, but opportunities exist in private practice, group and/ or corporate practice, academic, public health, urban, and rural settings.
Realistic goals and expectations need to be tempered with good fiscal planning and some discipline in this environment of high educational cost. Those of us dependent upon successful young dental professionals to further our legacy will have to continually address educational cost and student loan options. We also have to ensure viable practice options for those who follow us.
Q: As president-elect, what are your primary goals for the ADA and for the profession?
A: ADA goals are based upon our governing documents and strategic plan. The object of our association is to encourage the health of the public and promote the art and science of dentistry. Our strategic plan is member-centric, but a fourth goal addresses our commitments to our patients and the public.
Our success as an association and profession is dependent upon the ability of dentists to provide high-quality care in viable practice models that patients can access. I hope to keep these values integral to a “healthcare profession” front and center in every decision we make.
Q: What roles do ADA members and dentists outside of the ADA have in helping dentistry achieve those goals?
A: The commonalities inherent in the profession of dentistry extend to all dentists. This is true for those in private solo practice, large group or corporate practice, public health, or academics. Technology and scientific advancement help us all.
Disease burden, clinical challenges, patient management, business, and bureaucratic obstacles affect us all. The collaborative efforts of all dentists is necessary to ensure our future. Patient-centric quality care, ethical practice, community involvement, and advocacy for our profession and our patients is a responsibility of all dentists, not just ADA dentists.