Having spent 39 years in the healthcare sector, with the last 16 years in dentistry, during this crisis I often get asked, “Do you think the dental industry will recover?” My response is always the same, “Dentistry is a very resilient industry. As a critical member of the health care continuum not only will it recover, it must recover.”
The oral-systemic connection is well established now in many scientific peer-reviewed publications. One can still argue causation or correlation, which is an academic exercise. What is not in dispute is the fact that patients that receive strong oral healthcare, reduce the inflammatory burden on the human body. This, in turn, lessens the severity of systemic diseases such as arterial health, diabetes, and other debilitating conditions.
When sick patients do not add aggressive oral health strategies, they increase their odds of increased co-morbidity complications. Diseases such as uncontrolled caries, endodontic disease, and periodontal disease are active aggressive infections. Just as an abscess in your knee creates a massive inflammatory response, active infections of the oral system do the same. Dental physicians and hygienists are the only licensed professionals trained to treat these diseases. This is why during this crisis, it is imperative that patients who have pain in their oral cavity need to seek out their dentist or one that is open to take emergencies. Going to the ER or urgent care only takes away valuable resources from patients these facilities can help. ERs can do nothing to treat the disease processes of the oral cavity.
What this crisis has dramatically demonstrated is the lack of understanding by the public at large and our political system that dentistry is factually an “essential” service. God willing, we will never have to experience a pandemic like we are with COVID-19, but the historical statistics show we probably will. My plea is the dental community will band together after the dust settles and never allow the industry to be categorized as “Non-Essential” again.
A major step in this resolution is for our dental community to engage with our medical peers in a much deeper way going forward. Invite them to our study clubs, join them at their “grand rounds,” cross-refer patients with systemic disease.
Our community must take some responsibility for this lack of understanding. We need stronger efforts to educate and inform our political leaders that dental care is essential. Not just during a crisis, it’s essential all the time:
- We must get them to help us reduce barriers for patients to gain access to quality dental care.
- We need to address how to help our senior population and our children get help when they are financially challenged.
- We need to find ways to remove barriers to the reciprocity of dental and hygienist licensing across States.
- We need to stop the extreme insurance credentialing process that limits access to care.
Many of these challenges have been overcome by our medical colleagues. Let’s lean in and learn from them.
Will dentistry recover? Don’t bet against it. However, if we don’t use this as a wake-up call to drive some very needed changes, the culprit will be in our own mirror and this cycle will repeat itself.
Written by Thomas von Sydow, COO Cornerstone Holding Company/ Founder The Lomita Group. Thomas is the COO of Cornerstone Dental Specialties, one of the largest Endodontic Practices in North America. This is an Opinion Article and does not necessarily reflect the views of Cornerstone Dental Specialties, its affiliates, Owners, or Clinicians.
Thomas has over 36 years in the health care industry. Prior to Cornerstone he served as COO at Acuity Eye Care where he implemented a restructuring of the organization and developed out their acquisition program, overseeing 6 practice acquisitions in 12 months. Prior to that he served as the Vice President of Strategic Platform Development, and Vice President of Specialties at Pacific Dental Services. During his tenure the specialty business (Endodontics, Periodontics, Oral Surgery, Pediatrics, Orthodontics, and Hygiene) grew from ~28% of revenue to over 50% in 9 years. He also implemented the Oral Systemic Health strategy and opened one of the first Medical/Dental platforms in the US. He has held Senior Leadership positions at Nobel Biocare in North America and Country Manager of Mexico, Senior Leadership roles at Masimo Pulse Oximeter, United States Surgical, and Cadence Design Systems. Thomas served 6 years as a Navy Hospital Corpsman. Thomas holds a bachelor’s degree in health care management from Southern Illinois University Carbondale, and Advanced Certificates from Harvard in Leadership and Corporate Strategy. He enjoys travel with his wife of 35 years, and spending time with his 3 children and Grandchildren.
Tom discusses his specialty endodontic DSO, their products division, and their new training facility in our April 2019 podcast:
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