Like many sectors, 2020 was a challenging year for the US and global dental industry, with widespread temporary closures of dental practices early in the year and over 90% of US dentists applying for relief during the pandemic. But what will 2021 hold?

In 2021 we will see some areas of the market consolidating, others becoming more fragmented and an increasing trend towards digital and innovative dentistry. Improving patient experience and convenience, and reducing costs will continue to drive the industry, but what will be the most notable areas we will see change this year? I spoke to senior leaders across the US dental industry to determine the top trends driving the sector in 2021.

DSO membership will increase across the US

DSO membership is rapidly growing all across the US; In 2017 8.8% of dental practices were affiliated to a DSO with the state of Arizona leading the way with 18.4% of all dentists affiliated with a DSO. This figure is now believed to be dramatically higher – somewhere circa the 15% mark across the US – and is again predicted to expand rapidly to 20% of all US dental practices in 2021. The two major DSOs in the US currently have just over 800 practices each with both set to surpass 1,000 in 2021. It is also worth noting this trend isn’t unique to the US with growing popularity in Europe, particularly in Spain with membership at around 20% of the market and this is expected to increase too.

DSOs are attracting a large number of graduates as they offer a viable financial option for those leaving university with student debts. Even for more experienced dentists, the bulk buying power, HR and administrative support is an attractive proposition after the struggles of 2020.

Innovative new dental materials will fuel the growth in additive manufacturing

Dental additive manufacturing has been one of the success stories of 2020 despite the restrictions and uncertainty caused by Covid-19. At the forefront of this sector is Carbon 3D, which exceeded 2020 targets despite the global pandemic and this company isn’t the only one in this space to do so. The industry is still highly fragmented, with two main types: businesses specialized in dentistry and entering the 3D printing space or 3D specialists that are breaking into the dental sector. Who will prevail in 2021?

The growth of this market in 2020 has resulted from innovative new dental materials rather than advances in the printers and whilst this will continue to fuel growth in 2021, there is also likely to be a shift away from dental lab space with an increasing need for inhouse milling. This could result in not only quicker and better treatment options for patients, but also potentially lower-cost treatment in the long term.

Aligner therapies market growth will increase

It is no surprise this area of the market is still booming. Fortune Business Insights states the global clear aligners market size was valued at USD 2.31 billion in 2019 and is projected to reach USD 5.58 billion in 2027 exhibiting a CAGR of 18.7% during the forecast period. Growth has caused the market to become increasingly fragmented and there are now at least 10 major players and more than 15 companies in this space providing customers with more choice and driving prices down. Market growth is also being fueled by the increasing trend towards direct-to-consumer, which is improving patient access to orthodontic treatment.

The sector saw sudden and rapid changes in 2020 with Dentsply Sirona pulling out of traditional orthodontics altogether to focus on digital dentistry and with the addition of multiple mergers and acquisitions in this sector, the pandemic appears to have accelerated an inevitable transition.

Implant dentistry, a major part of dentistry, will continue to expand

ADA stated 53-59% of surveyed dentists reported increases in treating bruxism, jaw disorders and tooth fractures during the COVID-19 crisis due to stress and anxiety, which indicates there may be an increase in demand for dental implants in the future.

With the rise of DSOs, implant manufacturers will be placing more emphasis on winning their (DSO) business in 2021. The big change will be companies offering more training to both restore and place implants. CE certified training will be abundant; however, it will be largely delivered online for 2021, with Las Vegas symposiums a distant memory.

Online CE courses will favor the larger manufacturers that are able to offer the most resources for DSOs and their dental practitioners. However, mid-sized businesses in this area have plenty of opportunity to flourish thanks to their dynamic and flexible approach whilst also being able to be cost-sensitive in this post-covid world where businesses are going to be watching their spending more.

If you work in this space, I would love to hear your thoughts on what 2021 will hold for the US dental industry. You can contact me via LinkedIn here.