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Why the Dental Industry Is Advancing Faster Than Ever

Photo: Courtesy of Jose Vazquez

As the chief dental officer (CDO) of Tend, an organization looking to redesign how patients experience the dentist, Dr. Chris Salierno has influenced a lot of evolution in the dental industry. We talked to him about the most exciting advancements in dentistry and where the industry is heading.


Dr. Chris Salierno

Chief Dental Officer, Tend

What inspired you to chair the New Dentist Committee?

It’s been a great honor to serve my profession in various roles over the years. I was the national president of the American Student Dental Association (ASDA) while in dental school, and it’s kind of a natural progression for any ASDA leader to get involved with American Dental Association (ADA) for New Dentists activities after graduation. 

But I’ve found the most meaningful inspiration to become a leader comes from other leaders. I’ve seen brilliant minds give up time from their practices and personal lives to serve their profession. That’s what moves the needle for me; I’ve just been following in the footsteps of my mentors.

What are three of the most exciting technological advancements in the dental industry?

This is such an exciting time for dentists to transform their practices and their patient’s experiences with technology. Digital impressions are number one on my list. Patients love not having mouths full of goop, and dentists are marveling at the ability to see new levels of detail and then being able to quickly share that information with their laboratories.  

My second pick would be intraoral cameras. That’s not new technology, but the cameras keep getting better and easier to integrate into existing workflows. The power of being able to quickly document the health and pathology you see with your own eyes cannot be understated.  

The third biggest advancement would have to be the imaging and practice management platforms that allow us to seamlessly combine those digital scans and photos/videos with 2D radiographs and 3D cone beam images. When we have all of this data living together, we can better diagnose, develop treatment plans, and then share it all with patients like never before.

What are some of the most common concerns of dentists and what is being done in the industry to resolve them?

Our industry has seen rapid change due to innovations in technology, but we’ve also seen rapid change due to external economic forces. According to research from the ADA’s Health Policy Institute, the number of dentists in the United States will increase through 2040. Unfortunately, the demand for our services has not increased commensurately. This, along with other factors, has led to the consolidation of dental offices into larger group practices. Dentists can absolutely still be successful in small private practice, but they may also enjoy working in other business models, including DSOs.  

We’ve also seen concerns about the rising costs of running a high-overhead business while PPO fees are outdated and while patients behave more like consumers. This all places a lot of pressure on us to find ways to increase profitability. Again, technology can help us. It may seem counterintuitive for a dentist who participates in lower-paying PPOs to spend money on something like an intraoral scanner, but when you run gross profit margin and break-even analysis, it’s a smart investment.

What is different about Tend and what are you looking forward to in your new role as CDO? What can other practices learn from Tend’s approach to dentistry?

Our principles are credible expertise, obsessing over experience, and inspiring delight. As dentists, we all seek to provide services well above the standard of care (credible expertise),  and we hopefully all find ways to surround our patients with unique and wonderful encounters (obsessing over experience). But how do we inspire delight in a dental visit? How do we take a patient visit to the highest level of hospitality? That’s what Tend is trying to do.

Part of my role as Chief Dental Officer is to figure out how to also do that for our clinical teams.  How do we create a work environment that inspires delight for our dentists, hygienists, and assistants? It’s a novel approach and one that I’m really enjoying undertaking.

As you have continued to make strides throughout the industry as a leader in the field, what are you looking forward to in the coming years for dentistry?

I just completed my tenure as chief editor of Dental Economics, which has been published every month since January 1911, and I’ve had the opportunity to look at random issues from the archives. Over 100 years ago, dentists were sharing their challenges in running a business and their excitement about new technologies. In some ways, not much has changed; we’re human beings who have a unique opportunity to care for other human beings. Of course, in other ways, everything has changed; our profession is evolving more rapidly than ever before.

I can’t wait to see what a state-of-the-art practice will look like in 10 years. The most thrilling developments in dentistry right now are technological, but I’m most looking forward to seeing how the really smart and talented people in our profession make use of these new technologies. It’s up to us to raise our standards of care and increase demand for our services. I think we’re up to the challenge.

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