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Expectations call for rapid growth in the dental industry in the near future as new technology makes many procedures faster and more precise.
Dentistry has made a long, slow transition to the digital age over the last 20 years, but, that’s changing.
Star Wars in the dental office? Well, not quite. But there’s no question current and future technology is moving in that direction. Though it has been a long time coming.
Compared to other industries, dentistry’s transition to the digital age has been relatively slow. Brian Raskin, D.D.S., CEO of Advanced DDS and author of Better Than Basic: Your Smile is Worth the Best, says sometimes things need to hit a critical mass before they start taking off.
“You always have a small group of early adopters who like change, and they’ll dive right in,” Raskin says. “Digital x-rays came in around 1998, and I was one of the first on Long Island to do it. But it took 20 years for offices to really get into digital x-rays, and there are still some that don’t do it.”
But there’s no denying how swiftly technology is advancing today.
Raskin says the reason for the growth largely has to do with laboratories. Or more specifically, the challenge of finding trained lab techs. Those who know “old dentistry” don’t know digital, and vice versa.
“The labs are turning over even faster than the dentists,” Raskin says. “To turn dentists over to digital, there’s still an investment they have to make.”
That can be problematic. Raskin explains that older dentists don’t want to learn a new way of doing things. If they’re close to retirement, they’d rather put their money in the bank than spend $125,000 on new equipment.
They also have to learn a new technique, as well as a new workflow. And sometimes the conceptual workflow is harder than doing things the way they always did. But there’s no question there are benefits.
“You eliminate a lot of steps,” Raskin says. “You have increased accuracy. If you’re restoring a single implant crown, it’s two visits.”
Going digital, the initial monetary investment aside, can have significant financial benefits to a practice. Raskin says at his practice, one of the problems they have, if you want to call it a problem, is that they’re so efficient they can produce more per operatory.
“We do IV sedation in the office; so we’re doing sedation on patients, and having the ability to not have to get them back to finish their work is phenomenal,” he says. “So, the bottom line of a practice that’s working more efficiently is definitely improved. If you take three visits and turn it into one, you have two more visits you can treat somebody else.”
Then, of course, you need to figure out how to market your practice in order to have enough bodies coming in to fill the hole opened up because you’re working more efficiently. That’s a good problem to have.
But still, there are challenges. Raskin says he recently hired another dentist—he has about five working in the practice—and when he interviews the graduates from dental school he finds they had little to no exposure to digital.
“Maybe it’s starting to change a little,” he acknowledges, “but the dental schools have so much to teach them and so little time that they don’t teach them digital dentistry.”
Raskin recalls a recent interview conversation. He asked the young man if he had done any digital dentistry or cerecs. The young man replied, “Oh, sure.” When Raskin asked how many, he said, “Oh, not on patients.”
“That doesn’t count,” Raskin says. “It’s a little different on a patient.”
Raskin believes there are many ways trending technology will enhance dentistry and the patient experience in the coming years, including 3D printing, digital dentures, and computer-aided smile design. But for those dentists who are looking for a starting point down the digital road, he says get a scanner.
“You have to start scanning cases and sending them to a good digital lab,” he says. “Start learning digital dentistry. Your techniques are different, and you have to be willing to understand that. You could take messy impressions in the past and get away with it, but you can’t get away with that digitally.”
For example, Raskin explains, if there’s a little blood on an impression, it can be pushed away with the impression material. But a scan has to be clean.
“You need to be a good technician if you’re going to do this.”