Growth drivers in dentistry

In terms of growth drivers in the dental industry in Asia, implant and cosmetic dentistry have led the pack in the past decade.

“As Southeast Asian countries develop, patients are more educated and there is an increasing demand for cosmetic and implant dentistry,” says Dr Tan Shuh Chern, a dentist from White Dental Group, Singapore. “As the demand increases, more dentists get themselves educated in these areas as well, thus making access to such treatment easier for the patients.”

Closely related to cosmetic dentistry is the growing dental tourism industry which many countries in the region have cashed in on. Thailand is the top market for dental tourism, with a concerted effort by the government and various service providers to package cosmetic dentistry solutions with leisure options.

According to Thailand Dental Center, which runs dental tourism services for the Bangkok Smile Dental Clinic, it serves more than 3,800 customers with 60 per cent of them being foreigners. Patients from USA and Europe are the main medical tourists, enjoying quality dental care at a much lower cost in the region (and with a holiday thrown in) than back home.

Malaysia is also swiftly growing its dental tourism industry, while Singapore may be lagging behind in getting its share of the dental tourism pie.

Dental luxuries versus needs
Growth in implant and aesthetic dentistry looks set to continue into 2010 and the next few years, with the further development of Southeast Asian economies and its aging population.

“Besides living longer, people still want to look good, they want to age gracefully,” explains Dr Tan. “The smile plays an important part in the aesthetics of the face. Patients know that straighter teeth can give them a more pleasing look, and whiter teeth make them look younger. As more and more patients are aware of what is possible nowadays to improve their smile, the demand for cosmetic dentistry will always be on the rise.”

Dr Mohd Muzafar Hamirudin, president-elect of the Malaysian Dental Association, agrees that greater public knowledge has contributed to the trend, citing increased media focus on the smile, with “makeover” programmes featured regularly on television.

While many of the middle-income and educated population can afford such modern luxuries, there still remains a great need for basic healthcare and oral health education in the region. Dr Tan also notes that the gap in the dental conditions amongst countries in the region is still quite wide.

Need for continuing dental education
Despite the rich-poor disparity, Southeast Asia as a whole is generally better off than many poverty-stricken countries in other parts of the world, says Dr Kuan Chee Keong, secretary of the Singapore Dental Association. “Southeast Asian countries are definitely not poor. Many are quite wealthy actually – Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam are all roaring economies. Philippines and Indonesia are lagging slightly, and with the exception of Cambodia and Myanmar, generally the region is doing quite well.”

In this climate of progress then, one of the greatest needs is education – both of the public and of the dentist. Singapore has taken a definite step in ensuring the continual education of dentists with the introduction of the compulsory Continuing Professional Education (CPE) programme in which dentists have to clock 70 hours of training through seminars or courses in a span of two years.

Malaysia is also seeing positive signs of growth with the number of dental schools increasing to 11 in 2009, says Dr Muzafar.

Even without compulsory training, conference attendance shows that dentists throughout the region place great importance in upgrading their skills and keeping up-to-date with the dental trends.

Upcoming trends
Dr Kuan  observes that the trend in the dental industry is moving towards diagnostics and preventive treatment. The mouth-body connection is a hot topic of research, which was recently highlighted at the 2009 FDI congress in Singapore. There were a few technologies related to this and one of them was the salivary biomarker, he says.

Salivary diagnostics, an initiative promoted by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) in the US aims to be able to monitor health status, disease onset and progression and treatment outcomes through non-invasive means.

Another potential area of development is in genetics. “Everyone is talking about genetics, DNA,” says Dr Kuan. “There is potential in genetic therapy, but it’s still very early on and there haven’t been any substantial results yet.”

Besides potential futuristic breakthroughs, the race is on to be “faster and better”. According to Dr Tan, time is becoming a more and more precious commodity; patients want treatment to be done in a faster manner, for example, one hour teeth whitening and same-day delivery of implants and crowns.

He notes that patients are demanding more in these areas, but cautions that such immediate-loading implants are still not truly “immediate” with a waiting time of a few weeks or days.

As Dr Tan sums it up, “It is up to us dentists to educate the patient that it does not mean that procedures done in a faster manner is the better way. It all depends on suitability of the patients and proven evidence from the dental research.”

Source: Dental Practice News (DPN) magazine

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