The brave new world of Australian dentistry

6 May 2019

Even when you take a brief look at some areas of development expected in dentistry within the coming years, it’s understandable why some practitioners admit they find it all a little overwhelming.

Digital is expected to take on even more importance. Robots will perform procedures. Biomaterials will be more commonly used. Medicines will become predictive and preventive. Educational videos will become a regular part of treatment. Almost twice the number of new dentists will be graduating each year than the number retiring. This, along with a new call for universal dental care and patient expectations and client experience is expected to magnify.

“There’s a new era ahead and while we already understand things like digital technology, there are other areas which are like brave new worlds that will have to be dealt with, as that is the way it simply is going to be,” Associate Professor Ky-Anh Nguyen of the University of Sydney’s dental school says.

“Some of these will change the landscape of dentistry in dramatic ways, so it is a matter of working now to understand them so that no one feels left behind.”
In March, a Grattan Institute report Filling the Gap: A Universal Dental Care Scheme in Australia called for a Medicare-style universal insurance scheme for primary dental care, which would cost an estimated $5.6 billion a year. It claimed this could be paid for by a rise in the Medicare levy and phased in across the coming decade and was considered important because approximately two million Australians who required dental care in the past year did not access it or delayed it because of cost.

“Universal dental care is a big idea whose time has come,” Dr Stephen Duckett, the Grattan Institute’s Health Program Director, says. The report called on the federal government to set out a roadmap to a universal scheme, including plans to expand the dental health workforce, followed by incremental steps towards a universal scheme.

“All Australians should be able to get the care they need, when they need it, without financial barriers,” Dr Duckett adds. “There’s no compelling medical, economic, legal or logical reason to treat the mouth so differently from the rest of the body.”

While the ADA supports some of the Grattan recommendations, it does not agree with the suggestion that workforce numbers are the problem.
Digital technology has shifted dentistry to a new way of operating, with notable influences of the digital revolution including CAD/CAM (computer-aided design/manufacturing), digitally-assisted treatment planning for implant surgery/restorations and caries diagnosis tools. New technology expected to have an important impact on dental care is artificial intelligence (AI) which will open a range of applications – from optimising patient scheduling and efficient communication with patients to making more informed diagnoses. 

And there’s much more to come, Emeritus Professor Mark Bartold of the Adelaide dental school and editor of the Australian Dental Journal, says. “Digital dentistry will continue to develop at a rapid rate, heralding new procedures from patient engagement to sophisticated clinical techniques,” he says.

For the rest of this article, please to News Bulletin Online (May 2019 issue)