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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.
Dr. John Flucke shares his views on what will be the Top 10 defining dental tech trends of 2017.
As 2016 draws to a close, we’re looking back at the year, but we’re also looking forward at what’s to come. What are the top 10 trends that will define 2017? Here’s what I see making a big impact next year:
1. Digital impression CAD/CAM:
CEREC was invented in the late 1980s (how they ever managed to pull that off with the technology at the time still amazes me). The product category made baby steps of progress until the late 1990s and early 2000s when the combination of an incredible drop in computer prices and a tremendous growth of processing power coupled to drive innovation. Soon the E4D unit came along, followed by several companies with digital impression systems. Today, more than 20 percent of offices are using some type of digital acquisition technology and the number continues to grow. This is no longer a “should I buy,” but is now a “when I buy” tech.
In the last year we have seen several high profile data breaches in the healthcare industry. We’ve become used to seeing this type of thing occur in the retail industry (remember Target?), but suddenly our industry appears to be in the cross hairs of hackers as well. Of course when a retailer is hacked, they only have the negative publicity and restitution to customers. When the same situation happens to us, we have another entity to appease: the government. Fines for HIPAA violations can be severe, so it behooves all of us in healthcare to give data security a high priority. However, we shouldn’t do it just because of threats of a fine-it’s also the right thing to do!
Up next: 8 more tech trends that will define the new year
3. Patient communication:
There is no debate that technology and instantaneous information have changed our lives. Americans are now completely dependent on their smartphones for all kinds of things. With that in mind, if you want to stay in touch with patients, the best way to do so is through their smartphone. There are a number of companies in the dental space that can provide these types of services for a practice. Whether it is satisfaction surveys, Facebook likes or appointment confirmation, it is necessary for a practice to utilize communication services to keep in contact with their patients. Nearly half of all Americans no longer have a landline phone, making the smartphone the ideal way to keep in touch.
In the time that I have been in practice, I’ve seen implants go from a procedure that was exciting but hardly predictable, to
being state of the art. Implants are my number one recommendation for patients looking to replace missing teeth. Every year brings more advancements to the field, and 2017 will be no exception. In my mind implants encompass not only the actual implant but everything that makes them possible, including procedures like grafting and scanning, as well as all of the technologies that make implants possible. I believe these technologies will continue to grow as well.
It used to be that lasers were bulky and expensive. Now it is routine to see a laser device that can literally be picked up with one hand and moved around the office. Add to that the fact that the price has dropped about 75 percent over the last 20 years and it’s fairly easy to see why lasers have become such an exciting topic in the profession.
Of course lasers are a pretty broad topic, and what I’ve described above pertains to diode lasers which remove soft tissue. However, there has also been tremendous advancement in the Er:YAG category: the laser that cuts tooth structure and bone. The last year saw one of these lasers come into the market with a price under $50,000, which was previously unheard of in dentistry. This has caused a bit of a shake-up in the industry. While hard tissue lasers will never approach the price of diodes, they are now more affordable than ever.
6. Cone beam 3D Imaging:
This product category has seen tremendous advancements in the past five years and will continue to do so. We have seen decreases in exposure, better collimation and software improvements. Now CBCT is moving into more of an integrated role. The ability to do 3D treatment planning for implants, CAD/CAM and more is bringing this technology into more and greater usefulness.
7. Secure email:
While this subject could also fall into the HIPAA category previously listed, I have decided to break this out into a separate category because it is so important. Being totally digital, we often make requests of other offices to send patient data via email, and I’m stunned how often we simply receive a normal email with all types of confidential data either in the body of the email or in the attachments.
Ever since secure encrypted email became a necessity, we’ve been using Aspida Mail, and I sleep better knowing that any confidential information we send is encrypted and safe. Aspida makes this process quick and easy. There really is no excuse not to use it. The service is highly recommended.
8. Cloud-based practice management:
There are several good options that are now available in this category. In my opinion, the only thing that is holding back a mass migration is practices that are either only partially digital or, like mine, have very large amounts of data. It’s only a matter to time before the Cloud becomes a mainstay in dentistry. If I were a newer graduate and was starting a new practice from scratch, I would definitely give the Cloud a very strong look and evaluation.
9. Electric handpieces:
This is a category long overdue for deep market penetration. The electric handpieces of the past were bulky and not nearly as dependable as the ones available today. I began to migrate to electrics about five years ago when I began beta testing some models for manufacturers. What I discovered so impressed me that I made the investment to move myself to totally electric handpieces.
My current setup is Bien-Air iOptima, which is an iPod controlled system (very cool!), and the KaVo MASTERMatic. Both brands are very reliable and deliver incredible amounts of torque. My preps are better, smoother and cleaner. I don’t have to use them at full speed, due to their efficiency. As we continue to use more and stronger esthetic materials for crowns, the electric handpiece is a great advantage for the removal of these prosthetics or for endo access. There has been an incredible amount of innovation in this product category, and I look for that to continue.
10. Internet connected equipment:
If you are a geek like me, you’re aware of a concept called “The Internet of Things.” It’s basically a fancy term for the concept of everyday devices that are connected to the internet 24/7. Many homes are now installing connected thermostats that allow
the user to adjust them using an app on their smartphone and many alarm companies are putting doorbell connected cameras at the front door so that people can see who is at the door even when they are not home.
The same concept is being brought to the dental office. The devices we use every day are being given a way to communicate with the manufacturer and service technician. The idea is that before these devices actually fail, they can call for help and be repaired. It should save downtime and also allow the service tech to bring the proper parts to the office. I can see lots of applications for this technology, and I imagine that in 10 to 20 years we will be as dependent on this type of tech as we are on our smartphones today. Look for explosive growth in this category in the not too distant future.