Dental Tribune Middle East & Africa

Oral hygiene survey: Breaking down consumer perceptions and behaviours in the UAE and KSA markets

By Dr. Dobrina Mollova, Dental Tribune MEA
June 16, 2020

Interview with Markus Sebastian, SVP and MD of Align Technology EMEA

DUBAI, UAE: Align Technology, a global medical device company, recently commissioned a PR survey focused on consumer perceptions around oral hygiene in the region, and whether health insurance has any impact on consumer behaviour and sentiment. The survey reveals that perceived high costs of dental care and dentistry not being included in overall health insurance are limiting access for residents in the UAE and KSA to prompt oral care. Dental Tribune MEA had the pleasure to interview Markus Sebastian, SVP and MD of Align Technology EMEA to hear more about the topic.

What are the key highlights and the takeaway from the PR report commissioned by Align Technology?
Before I delve into some of the key findings from the report, I’d like to give you a little bit of context as to why we commissioned this research, and our objectives behind launching this PR campaign.

To date, across the whole GCC region, governments have made great strides in extending the reach of healthcare services for citizens. Here in the UAE, in particular, the government has implemented a number of important initiatives that have made a real difference to peoples’ lives and health. An important factor for this has been the introduction of mandatory insurance programs. In spite of this steady progress however, dental cover is not currently included within mandatory health insurance plans.

We wanted to contribute to a public debate by collecting objective insights into consumer sentiment that could be leveraged to launch  important conversations around accelerating better access to dental care.

One of the overarching findings was that the majority (58%) of the respondents are not getting access to dental care when they need it, with nearly two-thirds of respondents in the UAE citing high costs as the biggest barrier to getting timely care. This is despite 71% of respondents in the region reporting that they experienced a problem with their teeth or gums over the past year.

Another key finding was that access to dental care within health insurance coverage, even the most basic of allowances, would encourage more people to visit their dentist more frequently. An overwhelming majority of people here in the UAE and KSA (89%) said they believe dental care should be mandatory within their health insurance.

Over the past 18 years we have witnessed multiple similar programs, trying to reach the market and make a change. How confident are you that these are directed towards the proper target audience and clearly will change the health care service, in terms of oral health?
Our primary objective with this campaign was to gain deeper insight into perceptions amongst people in the GCC region with regards to their oral health, with the aim of better understanding how to improve it from a patient perspective.

Our research indicates that offering UAE residents access to dental insurance coverage will encourage more people to regularly visit their dentists and this may, in time, play a critical role in a patient’s long-term health. Our survey also confirmed that we in the dental and healthcare industry need to do more to educate our communities about the potential dangers of such conditions and habits, explaining their link to poor oral health.

We know that primary-care physicians and general practitioners (GPs) can, as part of their general health care, promote and contribute to improved oral health care. Physicians establish early relationships with some dental patients and are considered a trustworthy source. We are committed to continuing to support practitioners in their efforts to help serve patients better and achieve more efficient outcomes for the region’s health and dental care service in the long-term. 

What did this study contribute to aligner treatment?
We know that crowded teeth present a number of challenges in maintaining good oral hygiene. Overlapping teeth and tight spaces often lead to difficulty in reaching all of the tooth surfaces when brushing and flossing, as well as potential wear and tear of protruding teeth.

If left untreated, the result is that food is left behind resulting in the growth of bacteria. Initially, this leads to bad breath, whilst long-term build-up may result in more serious issues like accumulation of plaque, cavities and even gum disease. Although proper hygiene techniques can be maintained with crowded teeth, it is much more difficult.

At Align Technology, we are dedicated to transforming lives by improving the journey to a healthy and beautiful smile—and that includes ensuring good oral health for all. We are seeing steady progress in the adoption of digital dentistry across the region, with more doctors introducing clear aligners and intraoral scanners into their practices, and more consumers than ever visiting doctors to get their teeth straightened.

By coupling our technology and digital solutions—including Invisalign treatment and our iTero intraoral scanners—with better awareness about the important link between oral health and one’s overall health, we are supporting a future where each and every person’s health and happiness is prioritized.

Oral health and oral hygiene are very important in orthodontic treatments, even in the conventional treatment. This is also the same in periodontology and prosthodontics. Do you focus on educating dentists in the Middle East in the area of oral hygiene?

Besides providing ongoing clinical education and support for dentists and orthodontics on how to use our products, we also provide a regular series of seminars, forums and symposiums on a variety of topics throughout the year. Our goal as a company is to make our technology and solutions more accessible and available to more doctors and patients, and our clear aligner portfolio reflects that, with dedicated solutions for adults, teens and younger patients.

What are the implications of health insurance coverage and how does having access to dental treatment make a positive difference to people?
One of the most important findings of the research was that access to dental care within health insurance coverage, even the most basic of allowances, would encourage more people to protect their health through regular dental visits.

When dental cover is not included in health insurance, or only covers medical procedures, patients can potentially miss out on important regular check-ups that will ultimately pick up on oral health issues and lead to better habits that act as preventative measures for other diseases. We must remember that the cure is often costlier than prevention.

What are the plans of Align Technology for the MEA region?
Our vision is to make clear aligner therapy a treatment available to the masses. So far, we have successfully treated over eight million patients worldwide, including one million in EMEA. We see a strong opportunity for further expansion and investment in the Middle East, to allow us to reach even more people.

This year, we launched the iTero Element 2 Scanner into the Middle East region, expanding our portfolio. Together with the Invisalign system, it provides an integrated, digital platform to help dental professionals grow their practice, both for orthodontic treatment and broader restorative workflows.

Our aim is to continue to build on our strong doctor-supported channels in the Middle East, and to work closely with Invisalign-trained doctors to make Invisalign their treatment of choice and become the market leader in orthodontics.

How is Align Technology using innovative technology to transform the orthodontics industry in the Middle East?
Technology and innovation are at the core of our mission at Align, as it enables the evolution of digital dentistry. We are very proud of both our Invisalign treatment and iTero intraoral family of scanners, and the results they are driving in moving analogue practices into the digital age.

Align Technology is home to one of the largest dedicated 3D printing production spaces in the world today. We produce almost 500,000 unique aligners each and every day. Through these ongoing efforts in digitised dentistry and the use of 3D printing, we have helped dental professionals to create more beautiful smiles and provide great treatment outcomes to patients right across the Middle East region.

We are committed to continuing to support the UAE and wider region on its journey to digitalization. Our mission is to continue to push the boundaries and lead digital transformation in dentistry and orthodontics, making metal and analogue a thing of the past.

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