All change for dentists?
The UK has had the reputation for having the worst dentistry in Europe with infamous jokes about Brits’ smiles. The most memorable being a book of bad Brit smiles shown in popular US cartoon, The Simpsons, scaring children into brushing their teeth. But as the state of the nation’s oral health improves, the dental industry is also going through a transformation of its own. Like cosmetic surgery, cosmetic dentistry is also becoming the norm in the UK, rather than just being seen as a luxury. Celebrity culture has also put pressure on consumers to have the ‘perfect smile’ and this knock-on effect has led to a rise in private dental care. The secretive element of acquiring a ‘new smile’ has been removed, with people talking to their friends and family about private treatments. What is more interesting is how this is shaping recruitment in dentistry and the choices dental graduates have to make.
Consumer psychology and popular media
The interest in health, wellbeing, the desire to look more appealing to others and the enhancement of self-esteem have all contributed to an increasing demand for private dental treatment in the UK. The advertising industry and the media play a big part in selling the concept of perfection through cosmetic ‘solutions’. And with celebrities sharing more than ever before on social media - often mentioning products or services they’ve used - it makes it easier than ever for people to buy the same things as their favourite stars.
Furthermore, the popularity of reality TV, when ordinary people can become ‘real-life’ celebrities, has meant the aspiration for perfection for a majority of the population has never been greater. Last year, NHS medical director Sir Bruce Keogh reported that cosmetic treatment has become the norm amongst image conscious teenagers with an expanding product range available – invisible braces, dental bonding, porcelain veneers, teeth whitening and straightening. Even the recent shift of focus towards preventative dentistry with education in maintaining healthy gums, has not hindered the increasing demand for cosmetic treatments.
Another notable shift is the degree to which practices are able to directly market and engage with patients. This has changed the perception of the industry and patient expectations. As more and more practices and suppliers market their products directly to patients, we see the relationship between patients and dentists evolving too. Patients are now fully aware of the sort of treatments they are looking for. This shift is radically changing the sector and making it more customer-oriented, putting patients firmly in control of their treatments.
Consumer trust in private dentistry is developing as the industry becomes more transparent. The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) market study into dentistry in 2012 revealed concerns with both the private and NHS dental markets, making five recommendations; ranging from more direct patient access to dental care professionals, to the simplification of the complaints process. The study also acknowledged that the vast majority of patients are happy with their dental treatment and most dentists behave ethically.
Action has already been taken by the dental sector on many of the report’s findings, particularly around increasing transparency of information for patients. This will only strengthen patients’ trust in private dental care.
Careers in dentistry
The careers of a number of UK dental graduates looking to complete their studies with the NHS are currently in flux as many wait to hear if they will be left without a vocational training placement. Dental associations have estimated that a third of students due to graduate may be left without a vocational training placement with the NHS. With such uncertainty, it’s no surprise that many graduates see private dentistry as a viable alternative.
Another reason private dentistry is on the rise is that NHS treatments are limited to providing what is available on the contract and the increasing cosmetic work patients are requesting is not covered. However, offering these services privately overcomes such limitations.
Private dentistry is also starting to become a career changing option for dental professionals of all ages. Private practices can often offer considerable personal career development, which NHS practices, with the focus on KPIs as per their contract, may find it difficult to match. It is these changes that the current and future generations of dentists will adapt to in a new marketplace, with the focus being the patients’ desired outcome.
Educating patients is becoming more of a priority than ever for dentists. The focus on preventative dentistry is at the core of the services dentists offer. At mydentist, we have seen a significant increase in patients accessing hygiene through the direct access approach, many for the first time. Educating patients on the options available to them and maintaining and improving good oral health does not always have to involve a dentist. This shift in attitude is also fuelling the rise in the number of graduates and professionals looking for a less traditional role in dentistry. The changing model using the wider skill mix in the practice allows the dentists more time to deliver more complex and cosmetic treatments.
Popularity of private care and the future
mydentist has found that in the last few months, twice as many dentists have been applying for private dentistry roles with the company. This unprecedented interest in private dentistry is indicative of changes in the sector as a whole. Patients are increasingly interested in cosmetic and hygiene services, rather than simply seeking routine dentistry. Self-referrals for cosmetic dentistry are increasing rapidly, particularly driven by the nation becoming more image conscious. It’s an exciting time to be in the industry as the technology and techniques continue to improve and refine, allowing dentists to offer ever better services to their patients.
Caron Best is Director of Private and Specialist Services at mydentist