What Will Dentistry Look Like After COVID-19?

Roger P. Levin, DDS


It has been an unprecedented time for dentistry and the world. We don’t yet know when COVID-19 will end and when things will get back to normal. And until we have a clear pathway to vaccines and treatments for COVID-19, it’s likely that the unpredictability and uncertainty will continue.

Dentists will face many questions when deciding how to plan, invest, act, and react to the constantly changing landscape. Which are the right decisions, and which are detrimental? Should staff sizes be maintained or downsized with the hope of upsizing again when the need occurs in the future? Will there be a surplus or shortage of certain types of positions?

It is generally accepted that the degree of global change relative to COVID-19 will be directly proportional to how long the disease easily transmits in our society. This makes offering possibilities or projections difficult. But based on what we know now, here are some scenarios that may become prominent in dental practices.

Practices will redirect their focus toward opportunities to improve performance.

Prior to COVID-19, most dental practices were performing well. In fact, 2017 through 2019 were great economic years that provided excellent revenue and income for practice owners. Today, COVID-19 has created an erratic pattern with an unprecedented shutdown, reopening, pent-up demand, and, now, practices beginning to slow down.

Production will become the single most important practice management factor in dental practice turnaround. Practices must find ways to encourage patients with financial and safety concerns to return to the practice and accept treatment. These challenges can be countered with high-value practice management strategies that can be implemented quickly and maximized over time.

Dental staffing will become increasingly challenging for many years.

Upon the COVID-19 reopening, many staff members opted not to return to the practice, those who did return had to make decisions about remaining, and others had issues such as childcare, elderly parents, or family illness that kept them from having a regular schedule.

This put a high level of stress on practices during the pent-up demand phase. However, things are now smoothing out as the pent-up demand has been met and practice production is being re-established at a lower level.

Despite many practices’ ability to operate with a leaner dental team, the number of team members leaving the profession is creating significant challenges in hiring. Many dentists are having trouble hiring team members in almost every position with every level of experience.

This increased competition to attract team members will lead to signing and retention bonuses, increased benefit packages, and more part-time employment. Every practice should determine how it will recruit and retain staff prior to having a specific need if this staff shortage continues.

One of the most important strategies that a dental practice can implement to offset some of the challenges with staffing is proven documented systems. A great deal of time and stress can be eliminated if the practice has documented systems already in place that allow the new team members to train quickly and current team members to reach their performance potential.

Dental technology will become important for increased efficiency, speed, and production.

In any industry that faces employment challenges, technology becomes the automatic solution. New technologies can reduce dependence on staff labor, increase the speed of procedures, create convenience for patients, and drive higher production.

We anticipate that dental technology will increase rapidly to combat any labor shortages or challenges and that some of these technologies will become permanent fixtures in practice operations. We also believe that existing technologies will become more user-friendly and less expensive very quickly.

This will all cause an unprecedented technology revolution. For example, teledentistry will become integrated into many practices, becoming immediately effective for several different reasons.

One of the most crucial is that it will prevent many postoperative patients from having to come back into the office. Postoperative patients have traditionally had an extremely high no-show rate. By moving their postoperative appointment to a virtual platform, practices can increase chair time by anywhere from 5% to 8%.

Dental insurance will continue to reduce reimbursements.

One major state in the nation has already set the date to reduce reimbursement levels for all participating practices. Given this, how can practices offer discounts or financing to patients that are only being reimbursed at almost a break-even level for the practice? Dental practice finance will need to be continually reevaluated, analyzed, and rebalanced on a regular basis to deal with the potential onslaught of lower reimbursements.

We encourage practices to regularly submit updated fee schedules, collect all reimbursements, properly enter all information into practice management software so reports are realistic, and analyze all insurance participation at least twice a year. Dental insurance is now a major contributor to dental practice success, and it must be regularly analyzed and re-balanced to maintain the right patient base and level of dental practice production.

Dental practices should focus on a small number of key statistics.

In a business turnaround, only a few things typically matter, so tracking the 25 statistics that we previously recommended will become a burdensome distraction. Practices need only focus on the most important statistics that ensure success such as production, collection, revenue, overhead, accounts receivable, active patients, overdue patients, percentage of chair time, and cash.

Focusing on these key statistics daily, weekly, and monthly will help practices quickly understand their strengths and weaknesses, as well as what modifications must be made.

Dental practices, like most businesses, will be different in the future. It’s impossible to predict exactly what will happen. But based on previous recessions and challenges, the possibilities of changes identified here have a strong likelihood of occurrence. Practices that prepare now and implement and embrace the necessary changes will have the fastest, best, and deepest turnarounds.

Dr. Levin is the CEO and founder of Levin Group, a leading practice management consulting firm that has worked with over 30,000 practices to increase production. A recognized expert on dental practice management and marketing, he has written 67 books and more than 4,000 articles and regularly presents seminars in the United States and around the world. To contact Dr. Levin or to join the 40,000 dental professionals who receive his Practice Production Tip of the Day, visit levingroup.com or email rlevin@levingroup.com

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