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The COVID-19 pandemic underlined the need for pivoting to a digital model for the entire dental industry. In the “new reality”, digital dentistry will assume even more significance given that we live in a world where consumers – especially Millennials and Gen Z – have embraced digital technology and are rightly referred to as ‘digital natives.’
Many enterprises have already realised the need for digital transformation, several having commenced this journey prior to the pandemic. For the dental sector, the pandemic highlighted the need for accelerated digitisation, with lockdowns and safety protocols restricting normal practice to a certain extent. For dental practices to thrive in this new reality, ensuring a hybrid model – where physical consultation is complemented by online tools – is a valid option, worth considering.
Shaping the future of dentistry
As the dental sector rallied in its response to the pandemic, new ways of reaching the community were identified through new, and often innovative approaches, such as conducting dental triage or implementing virtual workflows for some patient cases.
The application of digital tools may enhance the overall consumer experience and add to the convenience of the dental practice. When practices were closed for walk-in patients during the pandemic, doctor-supervised tele-dentistry, served as the platform for continuation of timely and vital dental care.
In fact, our Invisalign Virtual Appointment tool – a solution launched last year by Align Technology - provided professionals the opportunity to monitor their patients’ treatment progress and address any questions at an early stage. This digital solution was quickly adopted by a number of dental practitioners in the UAE and across the region.
Orthodontists and dentists are successfully addressing patient queries and developing care plans centred on a digital-first approach – where possible. The extra capacity created by digital dentistry has given dental practices the opportunity not only to stabilise their business even during the pandemic but also helped establish an omnichannel approach to dental consultation, helping manage time and deliver remote care to patients.
Engaging the new generation
In the UAE, with 85 per cent of the total population under the age of 45, digital dentistry services are thriving - as smartphone and internet penetration has made the transition practically seamless.
Dental healthcare is not only here to stay - but will also continue to grow in demand. In fact, a study by the Oral Health Foundation in the UK recently reported that the population below 35 years of age spend on average three times as much on dental healthcare than the national average1.
Generation Z typically does not want to wait to book an appointment. Social media and other digital platforms are their first sources of information. While we must caution against anyone coming to conclusion based on online reviews and social media chatter alone, instead of consulting a dental professional before making an informed decision - the fact of the matter is that online tools are here to stay.
Acknowledging this, we have launched the SmileView app, a digital solution that enables people to take selfies of one`s mouth and, with a few swipes on their smartphone, visualise how their smile could look like after a dental procedure. This means, even before visiting a dental practitioner, they can get a simulation, close to the end-experience.
More predictable outcomes
The shift to digital dentistry, using such advanced tech solutions, no doubt, has changed the dynamics of the practice. Of course, physical consultation will remain as important as ever, yet at the same time, digital tools help dental practitioners follow a more flexible hybrid model.
The real value-add of this approach is that it makes outcomes more predictable – and add to the confidence of patients. As the world goes through a generational shift, with the new generations poised to play an important part in determining behaviours, it is important that we adapt to digital dental practices to inspire and bring more smiles on the faces of all, especially our youth.