Identifying R&D Claims in Dentistry

Identifying eligible clients in Dentistry

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Something we hear time and again from our clients is that they struggle to identify clients in their client base who would be eligible to claim R&D tax relief. So, in a new blog series, we’ll be digging into some less obvious sectors and discussing what to look for when assessing eligibility!

In the next part of this series, we’re looking at dentistry. In a change from our previous subjects, this is an area in which the level of R&D is often widely overestimated. In this blog we’ll attempt to explain why this is, and highlight the areas that are worth focussing on with your dentistry clients.

What to avoid

As with our previous subjects, it’s good to start out with an understanding of the types of dentistry practices and companies that don’t do any eligible work. In this sector, unfortunately, the answer to this is a whole lot of them!

The first thing to state here is that the practice of dentistry, although technical and highly skilled, does not constitute R&D on its own. This means that the vast majority of dental practices, who use established processes and techniques to treat patients, are very unlikely to be able to make a claim for R&D tax relief.

This lack of eligibility even extends to more technically advanced dental practices who have bought in off-the-shelf equipment to enable them to deliver cutting-edge treatments to their patients. Simply installing technology is not R&D, and even work done to optimise this equipment for an individual practice would not qualify.

Moving on from dental practices, not even dental laboratories are guaranteed to be doing eligible work. Labs that focus entirely on delivering standard services to dental practices will almost certainly not be eligible to make a claim, even though their staff wear white coats every day!

What to look for

Having said all of that, there are dental practices and laboratories that spend time and money on very eligible work. Here are a few examples of the kind of things to look out for.

Development of new treatments and techniques

Development of new treatments and processes in dentistry is an ongoing activity in certain practices and laboratories. The key thing here is that the treatment or technique requires advances to be made in an area of science, which could be anything from chemistry to software science. For example, the use of diode lasers to detect soft spots in tooth enamel, and thus cavities, required the development of appropriate laser technology alongside extensive clinical trials to prove that the technique worked better than previous methods. All of this development work would qualify for R&D tax relief.

Advances in 3D scanning and printing

One of the biggest advances in dentistry recently has been the introduction of 3D scanning and printing to increase the accuracy and speed of production of a whole range of dental appliances and treatments. Although the basis of these technologies is well established, there is still a great deal of scope for dentistry companies to be carrying out eligible work in this area.

Companies working, for example, to increase the accuracy of measurements made using 3D scanning through the integration of this technology with, for example, microscopy technologies in ways that require advances to be made would have a good case for claiming R&D tax relief. As long as these companies are making advances to the industry as a whole and are pushing these technologies beyond the manufacturers expectations, this can be a rich seam to mine.

Advanced materials

In many areas of dentistry, from the production of dentures and appliances to the bonding of fixes to chipped teeth, a lot of research time is spent on researching and developing new materials. This is complicated by the need for all of these materials to be non-toxic, hardwearing and resistant to the particular environment of the human mouth.

Dental laboratories working in this area, focussed on making advances in materials science and chemistry, will probably have some eligibility for R&D tax relief. For example, the development of longer-lasting bonding materials that can be colour matched to an individual’s remaining teeth has vastly improved the ability of dentists to seamlessly repair chipped teeth. In addition, materials for use in 3D printing of dental appliance require a great deal of R&D, due to the need for these materials to meet the above requirements as well as being suitable for use in a 3D printer.

Clinical trials

A final thing to remember is where a dental lab or practice embarks on large-scale clinical trials to validate a new treatment, there will almost certainly be eligible R&D. This kind of structured trial will, by definition, generate new knowledge in an area of science or technology, and should incorporate an advance in medical or dental science.

How to write an R&D tax relief technical narrative

With HMRC’s new mandatory requirement for project descriptions on all submissions, we wanted to share our experiences to help others to write their best possible technical narratives.

Available to download here.

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