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Focused on the consumer: Dental care 2018 outlook

March 5, 2018
What are some of the dental trends for 2018? This company has a few educated predictions on what dentists should be watching for and doing in order to make their patients happy and returning to their practices.
We’ve all heard and experienced that the only constant in life is change. Health care is no exception, and in line with the broader health-care industry, dental care is increasingly changing to better align with consumer needs. Today’s consumers are more engaged and active in their health.

I know this firsthand because I hear about it from the dental providers our company works with and see it in the claims trends that unfold throughout the year. With this shift in mind, here is my perspective on the changes we might see in dental care during 2018.

1. Integrated health care will continue to grow

One of the most significant trends I’ve observed recently, and one that shows no signs of slowing down, is the growing popularity of integrated health care. A 2017 Anthem Inc. study of employers found that almost 90% of respondents had adopted or were planning to adopt integrated health care for their employees.[1] Integrated plans, which include dental and other ancillary benefits, give providers a more comprehensive view of a patient’s total health, leading to better and more personalized treatment.

Through these plans, HIPAA-compliant data is shared, which allows a person’s core health-care team to provide the right care at the right time. For example, metopropolol, one of the most common prescription treatments used to control high blood pressure, can have both visual and oral side effects. A dentist whose patient has an integrated plan could easily see if the person was on metopropolol, which gives the dentist the ability to better serve the patient by monitoring for those oral side effects.

2. Adult orthodontia will gain in popularity

Orthodontia is often thought of as a service for children and teens, and historically that’s true. The reality is that we’ve seen adult orthodontia become a mainstay for many dental practices for both cosmetic and clinically necessary reasons. In a 2014 study, the American Association of Orthodontists found that adults made up more than 1.5 million orthodontics patients in the United States, a record high. With this increase in interest comes a corresponding increase in the demand for non-traditional braces such as Invisalign. In response, health plans, such as Anthem’s affiliated health plans, will become more likely to cover this type of care to help consumers access the services they value.

3. Interest in teledentistry will increase

Over recent years, telehealth has been an increasingly popular option for patients seeking convenient, non-emergency medical attention. In 2017, approximately one-third of all non-emergency medical visits, more than 400 million,[2] were conducted via telehealth platforms. While I find that interest in teledentistry among dental care providers still lags behind other medical providers, because telehealth is now practiced throughout the medical community, I think that we will see increased consumer interest in teledentistry as technology advances.

We know that dental care will continue to evolve and keep pace with these trends and meet the needs of engaged consumers in an increasingly connected health-care ecosystem. With dental care providers and plans working together to simplify access to affordable care, we can continue to provide consumers with the care they want and need in 2018 and beyond.

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1. Anthem Integrated Health Care Report, edition 2.

2. First Stop Health, 2017

Scott Towers is president of Anthem Inc.’s dental division.