The state of technology in dentistry

January 11, 2016
Dr. John Flucke
Dr. John Flucke

Dr. John Flucke is in private practice in Lee’s Summit, Mo. He also serves as technology editor for Dental Products Report magazine and keeps an active blog filled with thoughts and tidbits on the world of technology at blog.denticle.com.

As the old expression goes, the only constant is change. As I type this, the days are getting longer and the holiday season is receding into life’s rearview mirror. Such is the way things go.

As the old expression goes, the only constant is change. As I type this, the days are getting longer and the holiday season is receding into life’s rearview mirror. Such is the way things go.

However, by no means is this meant to be an article that curmudgeonly yearns for the “good old days.” Nope. By now, you probably know me well enough to know that. Unlike Heath Ledger’s Joker in “The Dark Knight,” I may not be an “agent of chaos” (depending on my mood) but I am, for sure, an “agent of change.” That’s why I’m always trying to find ways to make the whole idea of dentistry faster, easier and more predictable.

Like Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, the evolution of technology happens in a state of punctuated equilibrium. Basically, it means that there are times of sudden and pronounced changes followed by times of gradual change (or no change at all). For the past year or so, it seems we’ve entered one of those gradual phases where we are seeing improvements in our technologies, but nothing ground-breaking at this point

However, let’s take a look at some areas that I am currently excited about, using, and/or generally looking forward to continued evolution.

More from Dr. Flucke: How to transform your dental practice from low-tech to high-tech

CAD/CAM

Since the first release of CEREC in the very late 1980s, we’ve seen this entire product category continue to evolve to the point that now these devices produce results easily rivaling those made by human hands. As a matter of fact, I think it is time we rename this product category.

CAD/CAM stands for “Computer Assisted Design/Computer Assisted Manufacture,” but with so many systems now available to take digital impressions and create prosthetics, I propose we start calling this category “Digital Restorative Dentistry.” I like the sound of the abbreviation of DRD, plus it just makes sense to rename an idea that has changed so much that when it premiered, handheld mobile phones barely existed.

As most everyone in the industry knows, you no longer have to buy a system that consists of an acquisition unit and in-office mill. You can buy a digital impression system and have your prosthetics created in a lab or you can buy one of the several available milling units that will interface and work with any of the digital impression systems out there. The best part of this option is the much lower cost to get involved since you only buy the mill when and if you want to do the in-office fabrication.

Also, while not dramatic, all of the DRD systems continue to improve in speed and function. That means better restorations for your patients and lower stress for you.

More on CAD/CAM: 3D CAD/CAM in the future of dentistry

Security

The subject of security is going to be with us as long as the Internet exists.

The difference we now face that we didn’t in the past is the presence of professionals instead of amateurs. Identity theft is a huge and thriving business, which can make quick and easy cash for the bad guys.

It definitely behooves those of us in healthcare to have our security ducks in a row and to do all we can to prevent any compromise of data. This means having professionals check your security setup, installing antivirus software, as well as using HIPAA-compliant email for transferring secure patient data.

The best offense is a very good defense … especially in this case.

Related reading: How to protect your dental EHRs from cyber attacks

 

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Cone beam computed tomography

This is a product category that has seen serious growth and development over the past several years. Prices and features continue to improve while more and more doctors are seeing the benefits of this amazing technology.

Cone beam is no longer a question of “if.” It is now a question of “when,” as doctors are now embracing the information delivered by this amazing imaging technology.

I fully believe that everyone should have access to a cone beam device. This doesn’t mean that everyone should buy one, but it definitely means every doctor should know where to send a patient for a scan if he or she chooses to not have one in the office.

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Bulk fill composites

Since the idea of “white fillings” first came into existence, the profession has been waiting for an esthetic material that is quick and easy to use. In the last five years or so, we’ve seen a tremendous growth and development in this area.

While we still haven’t reached the pinnacle of this product development, we are seeing rapid and dramatic improvements with this product category.

The latest developments have seen both a light-cure and self-cure component of these materials. This means that the material can be placed in bulk, light cure the outer portion, and then finish this outer portion while the internal continues to auto polymerize.

This dual-cure process ensures that these materials truly are bulk fill since they will cure whether light-activated or not.

We can still use some development with the product category, especially dealing with shading and other aspects of esthetics, but there is no doubt that this product category has seen dramatic improvements and will only continue to get better as the hard-working chemists in the lab continue to innovate.

We have had quite a bit of experience with these in my office and have been very pleased with the results.

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Wrap-up and a challenge

Hopefully you’ve been able to take advantage of some of these developments in products. If not, definitely give them some investigation. I’m pretty sure that you’ll be happy you did.

On a closing note, I’d like to issue a challenge to those who work in research and development in this great profession. We’re due for some type of major new product development or a dramatic improvement in existing technology.

It’s up to you smart people to once again create a dramatic change-shifting product. We’re waiting and we’re ready for it!

More from Dr. Flucke: How to ensure the entire team is on board with technology