Rapid Growth for Denture Market
How can the industry meet the demand?
The automated manufacture of removable prosthetic appliances has emerged at a critical juncture in the evolution of the dental industry. The rising number of older Americans and prevailing economic conditions are impacting the current and future market for removable prosthetics and have researchers predicting rapid growth in this segment.
In fact, in the United States, the market for removable prosthetics is projected to be one of the fastest-growing segments in the dental industry over the next 2 decades. The primary drivers behind this trend toward rapid growth are an aging Baby Boomer patient base, the increased life expectancy of the adult population, and a slow economic recovery. As the need for dentures rises, looming in the shadows is a potential problem with supply. The aging-out of skilled and knowledgeable removable technicians and the reduced removable curriculum in dental schools is a combination that could create a vacuum of needed knowledge and skills.
Current estimates hold that 20.5% of adults in the United States older than 65 years have lost all their natural teeth due to tooth decay or gum disease. Another 178 million are missing at least one or more teeth. The numbers of US adults who are missing teeth will only increase as the average life expectancy moves upward from 78.9 years to a projected 79.5 years by 2020. This increase in average life expectancy, along with the aging of the 79 million US Baby Boomers and their “forever young” mindset, will boost the demand for precision-made removable prosthetic appliances for decades to come. In 2012, the US denture market was valued at more than $2.6 billion, with nearly 2.5 million full denture units sold. The market is projected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.9%, to exceed $3.6 billion by 2019.
The challenge facing the dental industry will be its ability to meet the increased demand for precision-made removable prosthetics using traditional prescription and fabrication processes. Not only are there fewer experienced denture technicians, but also the reduced curriculum for removable prosthetics in dental schools is producing generations of graduates not well schooled in removable prosthetic principles, leaving clinicians equally challenged in terms of fading knowledge and skill levels.
Adding to dentistry’s challenge are the esthetic and functional expectations of today’s patients. Unlike previous generations, the Baby Boomer generation and those that follow expect dentistry to restore their former natural function and esthetics completely. They will be less patient with the tedious five-to-six appointment protocol and waiting times inherent in the current laboratory and clinical diagnostic and treatment process. Tediously labor-intensive, both clinically and technically, the traditional removable restorative process remains fraught with inconsistencies and imperfections, all of which will become increasingly less tolerated by patients who desire to maintain their busy work, family, and social lives.
The challenges of increased demand, patient expectations, the shortage of skilled denture technicians, and dentists undertrained in providing removable prosthetics are all factors driving the need for automation of the manufacturing process for removable prosthetic appliances. The advent of CAD/CAM–produced full and partial dentures promises to help eliminate these challenges.