Each year, the Cellerant team comes together to consult on what products and technologies are best of class. Dr John Flucke discusses just how important peer consultation and conversation are in this process.
In the Beginning…
I have been in dentistry for a while now. I hate the fact that the years keep on spinning by, dragging my youth with them, but I also completely love the fact that I’ve been around to see so many phenomenal changes. In my undergrad years, we programmed the VAX mainframe computers with punch cards! When I started my office, there weren’t many computers in the profession. In fact, my buddy Paul Feuerstein, DMD, installed one of the very first ones.
I had been practicing for about 5 years when I finally decided to buy a computer for my office. When it arrived, I was unboxing all of the hardware and I called the vendor to tell them they had forgotten to include a modem with all of the hardware. The support person I spoke with told me, “They are actually built into the computer now. Look in the back and you will see a telephone jack by the mouse port.” Mind…blown.
The problem with the computer was that it was like my personal version of catnip. I could not leave the thing alone. Soon I was spending hours taking computers apart, and then I started taking the parts apart! That started my career as a hacker, and it has been an incredible ride ever since.
In those early days, it was all about the computers. A lot of what we wanted to do could not be accomplished for the simple reason that the hardware lacked the horsepower. In those days computers were slow. However, some of us were dreamers, and we could see the potential. We could almost feel the potential that existed in the digital realm—we just needed the tech to catch up with our visions.
In the early to mid-2000s we suddenly saw a tremendous uptick in the abilities of computer processors. The systems finally became able to do what we had been dreaming of for at least 15 years. The other great thing was that while the processors got faster, the prices got lower. This helped bring the idea of computers everywhere you needed them into reality.
This also brought the computer directly into what we were doing. Computers were in every operatory, and because of that you could now use them to take radiographs, take intraoral pictures, and perform computerized charting—just to name a few of the things they could do.
As computers began appearing in treatment areas, smart individuals started thinking about what else we could do with them. More and more peripheral dental devices came to market, and that meant the computer and these peripherals were the center of treatment. I began to refer to the operatory computer as the “hub of the wheel” and all of the peripherals as “spokes off the hub.”
Once technology permeated dental treatment with the exponential proliferation of the computer as the “hub” of the dental operatory, it was only a matter of time before the blast radius of the tech explosion exceeded the confines of the operatory and the personal computer that ran it.
The processor power I discussed earlier allowed imaging to make the jump from pixels to voxels. As we all know, pixels are what make up digital photos. These little squares are packed tightly together, and the more pixels that are packed together, the better the resolution of the photo. Well, for those of you not overly knowledgeable about cone-beam computed tomography (CBCT), a 3D image has cubes instead of squares. Rather than squares called pixels, these cubes are called voxels. The reason this is important is that processing all of these voxels takes a lot of processing power, and the devices that create the images can’t fit into the operatory.
That meant the profession began to move away from just 1 computer in the operatory being the center of office technology, and instead there were many pieces of computerized hardware in points all over the office. In a rather short span of about 5 years, we began to see CBCT, intraoral scanners, in-office milling devices, 3D printers, and more. Dentistry moved from a world of everything in 2 dimensions to suddenly seeing everything in 3 dimensions. The technological innovations began to become like the proverbial snowball rolling down the side of a mountain, gaining speed and momentum as it progressed. Suddenly our profession was seeing all kinds of devices in all kinds of shapes and sizes that did all kinds of things.
The actual practice of dentistry changed rapidly with these advancements. When I opened my practice, often all that was needed were handpieces, hand instruments, and a way to take and process films. Now dentists had a tremendous number of options and choices to make. Those choices brought with them a need to evaluate the hardware and decide which of those amazing, and often expensive, devices best fit their needs as well as the physical footprint of their office space.
And how do we decide what we need and which one to purchase?
What follows is a true story. Dental Products Report hosted an event in the early days of digital radiography. We decided to hold a digital radiography event in San Francisco, California. We had many vendors present who were there showing their latest and greatest x-ray products, and we had several experts who were going to have a panel discussion about digital radiography and discuss what doctors needed to consider. The idea was to give doctors the opportunity to hear the opinions of experts as well as to see and touch the best dentistry had to offer.
The morning of the event, there were buses to take attendees from the hotel to the event. Dr Gordon Christensen and I got on the bus and sat down together in one of the back seats. As the bus pulled away, one of the doctors stood up at the front of the bus and shouted, “Hey Gordon and John, why don’t you guys just tell us which one to buy and then we can all go have breakfast!”
Laughter ensued, and rightly so. Doctors often need the opinions of experts to help them make good decisions. I’ve seen many surveys over the years that indicate doctors value expert opinions above all else.
Cellerant Best of Class
That was the idea behind the Cellerant Best of Class Technology Award voting. Those of us on the voting panel are not only people who live, breathe, and sleep technology, but also doctors who can effectively determine the viability of these ideas, materials, and devices in the clinical environment because we treat patients, just like all of you.
Making changes in workflows and investing precious financial resources to help bring about those changes are not things to be taken lightly. Doctors need to know that when they make that investment, it will help bring about positive changes for their office and deliver positive outcomes for their patients.
The Best of Class panel uses our expertise to explore and understand these new products and technologies so that a doctor has peace of mind when making a purchasing decision.
While we keep our discussions confidential, I can tell you that things are not always rainbows and unicorns when we meet. The members are passionate about what we do, and we take our responsibilities seriously. We know that our peers and their patients are counting on us to provide reliable and dependable information to them. Discussions can sometimes be heated.
For me, the best part is that all of us on the panel are friends. That means that at the end of the meeting, we push differences aside and our friendships prevail. However, during the meetings we sometimes have some pretty…ahem…robust discussions. That is due to the simple fact that we want the best for those who depend on us.
Every time I sit down to write this column, I hope that all of you, as my readers, will have a takeaway when you finish. That’s always my goal, and I hope you see that, month in and month out. The takeaway I want to leave all of you with this month is this: The Cellerant Best of Class choices are truly that–the “best of class.” Those of us who vote are honored to be given the responsibility to provide all of you with the best information and the best choices we can provide. The companies and products we select are truly the ones that should make your short list when you are considering purchasing decisions.
For this issue, review the winners and go ahead and set it aside so that in the year ahead when you are considering new things for your practice, you have a good feel for what to select. Rest assured that those of us on the Best of Class panel have your back!