Like every other profession, dentistry is going through rapid change here in the early 21st century. Advances in technology, proliferation of the internet, changes to the healthcare system and better consumer awareness are all factors in the way dental services today are delivered to patients. Such is the case with general dentists and specialists (Endodontists) alike.
An endodontist is a dentist that specializes in root canals. Historically, there has been a strong partnership between a general dentist and the endodontist who was equipped to handle emergencies and cases that required the skills of a dental specialist. There has always been a strong bond between the general dentist and the endodontist, the general dentist likes to have the ability to call and refer a patient for a root canal, often times for an immediate appointment.
So the business model for a specialty office was to market your services to general dentists within a 3 mile radius of your office and wait for the phone to ring with referrals from general dentists. This model has worked very well for decades in dentistry. It would not be uncommon for an endodontic specialist to receive 100% of their revenue from general dentist referrals.
As mentioned above, times are indeed changing. The advent of rotary instrumentation began a trend of dental supply companies selling these files to general dentists and convincing them that they should no refer out root canals to specialists and instead perform these procedures in their own office. This greed on the part of the manufacturers has led to root canal treatment below the standard of care which has caused stress, pain and unnecessary discomfort to thousands of patients whose case should have been referred out from the beginning.
Additionally consumers are taking to the internet to search out their own solutions and dental specialists. So many patients now utilize corporate dentists or clinics for their primary dental care and when they need services beyond the scope or comfort level of a clinic, they seek out the specialist themselves. This change has brought about an increase of “self-referred” patients to the endodontist.
Lastly, recent changes to the healthcare system in the United States was intended to primarily affect medical treatment for patients, but it is slowly creeping into dentistry as well. The overall “dumbing down” of our system is causing some patients to expect that they should be entitled to specialized dental care for little or no cost to them. This is a disturbing trend, yet in the end it will cause patients who appreciate the special care to seek out those providers who can deliver that type of treatment.
Indeed times have changed and the typical endodontic office now sees about 80% of their revenue generated from direct referrals from general dentists. These relationships are all the more important so that the specialist and the general dentist are on the “same page” for the good of the patient.