Confessions of a dental dinosaur in a digital dental world

July 7, 2015

First, let me come clean: I am celebrating 30 years in dentistry this year and although I may refer to myself as a “dental dinosaur,” I’m not calling my fellow dental friends old. But, let’s face it: if we think about the treatment modalities, materials and technology we have today in dentistry, you may agree with my analogy.

First, let me come clean: I am celebrating 30 years in dentistry this year and although I may refer to myself as a “dental dinosaur,” I’m not calling my fellow dental friends old. But, let’s face it: if we think about the treatment modalities, materials and technology we have today in dentistry, you may agree with my analogy.

My next confession is that I hung up my dental assisting roller skates in 2006 to focus on dental sales and education. In doing so, I was forced to move towards technology, beginning with even simple computer programs like managing my travel in Outlook. When I transitioned into sales, I had never used Power Point, Excel or any type of product inventory or order entry software. Mind you, I didn’t even know how to work with iTunes on my iPod; I had a “guy.” The picture I’m trying to paint is that I had no clue how to live in a world of basic office technology. How was I going to survive in this new world of “dental technology,” specifically digital dental technology?

Related reading: The importance of becoming a digital dentist

Lucky for me, my focus was on instrumentation and occlusion, so I had a pass on the digital side, at least for a few years. It seemed so futuristic at the time that I truly didn’t trouble my brain over the thought of having to learn it, let alone understand it. I remember someone saying, “With all of this digital technology, someday you’ll take a scan of the head and know exactly how the occlusion should be, and there’ll be no use for articulators.” My inside voice said, “you are crazy, man,” but what I responded with was, “maybe, but that probably won’t happen in my dental lifetime.” Well, we will see about that one! 

I love to learn, and the reason I left chairside assisting behind was because I was no longer growing professionally. I don’t mean growth monetarily; I mean I was not growing intellectually in my profession. For the first time in my career, I was really concerned that I might fail. Digital dentistry has a language of its own which is really not a dental language. You pair your dental lingo with techno, “geek squad” IT words that really scared me. I didn’t know STL and DCM from TTFN or BTW, LOL!  

Trending article: 5 technologies your practice needs to invest in NOW

So, how did my dental dinosaur brain do it? How have I been able to understand and educate customers on 3D printing, creating a 3D image from a gypsum cast using a desktop scanner or creating a 3D image of a patient’s dentition using an intraoral scanner?  Well for starters, I’m lucky enough to represent some of the user-friendliest systems available on the market today. I’ve also had access to some really talented “young” minds that’ve answered the thousands of questions I’ve had over the past two years.

But, your job is a little more difficult than mine was. First you have to decide which of the many systems is right for your practice. Some of you may not even know what questions to ask and, you can ask the same question and receive five different spins on the answer. I think one of my most frustrating questions in the beginning was, “Is the system open.” Depending on whom you are talking to, “open” is quite open for interpretation. This is probably one of the most important questions to understand when you invest in your technology.

Continue to page two for the top five tips for going digital...

What I would like to do is give you my top five tips to keep in mind once you’ve made the decision to go digital. Ultimately, no matter what system you decide upon, you’ll need to spend time learning the techniques and software.

What does the support and training look like from your distributor? Selecting a distributor who uses this technology in a production setting is ideal. Chances are, whatever crazy situation you just experienced, they’ve had it too and can get you back on track.

Related reading: How to understand and handle today's digital workflow

Who is the manufacturer? Are you using technology from a company who is known for making impression materials and cotton rolls? Purchasing a system designed and manufactured by a company whose focus is on technology (and, even better, dental/medical technology), is a safe investment.

Ease of use? Look for a system that employs logical workflows that are easy to learn and maintain.

Is the system future secure? Will your system, especially software, grow with the needs of your practice and dentistry as a whole? Look for a system that offers software upgrades as a part of your license agreement, no matter how long you’ve had it. Also, a system that offers modules you can add as your practice offerings grow is a great example of a future secure technology.

Do labs use this system? In the 2013 ADL survey it was noted that almost 50 percent of all dental labs use some type of digital technology; that should be a comfort to you right out of the gate. The labs have been the early adaptors with this technology and every large commercial lab will even have one or more systems they work with. Your dental lab can be a great resource because they’ve already done their research.

Trending article: Compiling digital data in the dental practice

Finally, I hope hearing how far I’ve come over the past few years eases some of your fears of going digital. I don’t know what dental brain gymnastics I’ll put myself through next, but I do know I’m surviving and thriving in this digital dental world and you will too!  Oh, and by the way I’ve also mastered the iPhone, iPad, iPod and MacBook just like every kindergartner has. So, I have that going for me, which is nice!