The top overlooked technologies your dental practice should be thinking about

January 28, 2016

What technologies are under appreciated-or going unused-in your dental practice? Dr. John Flucke explores several technologies you shouldn't be ignoring.

Microsoft did an interesting study a few years ago. The company had decided to upgrade and redesign one of their flagship products, Microsoft Office. In the company’s opinion (and from user satisfaction surveys as well) Microsoft learned that, while effective and beloved by almost all users, there were areas that were definitely in need of improvement.

So... what can we glean from this quick little story that we can apply to our treatment, our patients, … heck, maybe even our lives in some small way?

The lesson is to always keep your eyes open for small things that can have a big impact, today or in the future.

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Curing lights and curing technology 

If you‘ve ever been to one of my lectures on restorative techniques, chances are you’ve heard me say that curing lights and curing in general are the “red-headed stepchild of dentistry.” Now by that I don’t mean to insult my ginger-headed friends in the profession. Au contraire! By that phrase I mean that a very important and strategic piece of the restorative process often doesn’t get the love and attention it deserves.

Many offices just figure that if the light turns blue when I push the button, the composite must be set; or if the composite “feels” set when I scratch it with an explorer then it must feel the same all the way through. However… is it really? You see those are the kinds of questions that keep me awake at night (it’s not always easy being me, trust me…). These are the kinds of things that have me filling extracted teeth and then sectioning them… heck and even then I’m still not 100 percent sure because after all, what in the world is 100 percent right?

More from Dr. Flucke: The state of technology in dentistry

A few quick tips that will hopefully help if you are like me. You cannot over-cure a composite. What you want is a chemical reaction that is as completely set as possible. This is accomplished by getting the light as close to the material as possible and using multiple exposures of the material to the light. This helps provide a long chain polymerization reaction. These long chain molecules are strong and help to create a strong bond of the material to the tooth.

While you cannot over-cure a composite, you can overheat a tooth with a curing light. This can be done by using the light repeatedly without giving the tooth a chance to cool off between curing cycles. This can be easily remedied by simply allowing a few seconds for the tooth to cool down, as well as spraying it with air.

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Teaching visually

When visiting offices, I am still stunned by how infrequently intraoral cameras are used, even though they are sitting in plain sight right there on the countertop. Human beings are very visual animals. We crave visual stimulation and we will get it any way we can. I know that many find it frustrating (and rightfully so) to see folks with their nose in a screen but it’s just so hard for us to resist.

More from Dr. Flucke: 3D CAD/CAM in the future of dentistry

That’s why I cannot believe how frequently I see these devices gathering dust in busy operatories. Remember that the root word of “doctor” comes from a word meaning “teacher.” There’s no better way to teach than through the patient’s eyes. According to the US Department of Labor, 83 percent of human learning is done visually. Combine that statistic with the fact that 30-40 percent of the brain’s cerebral cortex surface area serves the visual sense and you can understand why “showing instead of telling” is such a big deal when you are trying to communicate with patients.

The same goes for sharing digital radiography. One of the great things about this technology is being able to show patients problems that you can’t show them with an intraoral camera. By utilizing two monitors in the operatory you can drag and drop radiographs from the provider’s perspective to directly in front of the patient. This is a great way to help patients understand exactly what you are diagnosing.

By utilizing photos and radiographs, patients will have a much better idea of what is going on in their own mouths and will more readily join in co-diagnosis of their problems.

More on technology: Top technologies for caries and cancer detection

The final component to the visual puzzle is patient education software. Many offices buy one of these programs and then rarely use it. However, offices that use one of these on a regular basis will tell you that they truly help patients comprehend your recommendations, understand what the procedure entails, and answer most of the questions a patient may have. Proper use of these systems is like having an unpaid staff member who is more than happy to thoroughly explain things in a manner that patients can understand. Heck, the Guru system even lets you drag and drop the patient’s own pictures and radiographs directly into the presentation!

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Lasers and electric handpieces

When I lecture on lasers, it is usually a pretty full course and usually more than half the attendees are current laser owners. Unfortunately there just isn’t enough readily available training for those who purchase lasers and truly want to use them to their full potential. Because of that, some owners become a tad reluctant to use them. After a while that reluctance can result in the laser sitting in a corner and gathering dust. If this has happened to you, don’t worry!

Many people are intimidated by lasers simply by the fact that they are lasers. This can lead to a certain amount of concern since we all have the perception of a laser as a James Bond gadget that slices through walls. However, the diode lasers used in dentistry are very gentle and having a bad outcome is something that rarely happens.

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

My advice to diode owners or soon to be owners is to practice using the device on a room temperature chicken breast from your local grocery store. Practice cutting on it using different lasers settings and on different area of the chicken (light and dark areas) to see how the laser reacts. You’ll find that dark areas cut faster and light areas cut more slowly. A little bit of practice here as well as thoroughly studying your owner’s manual will give you the confidence you need to succeed.

Electric handpieces are something I’ve become very passionate about in the last few years. I had been using air rotors for most of my career and didn’t really see the need for electrics. Then, a company approached me about doing some testing on a new electric system and my opinion changed rapidly. Since that time I have converted my treatment areas to electrics and I rarely pick up an air turbine driven handpiece.

What spurred by decision?  Today’s electric handpieces provide unbelievable torque. That means I rarely run them at full power. This “high torque/lower RPM” philosophy gives me better tactile control which translates to better preps with better margins. Speaking or margins, the high torque of electric handpieces mean they are almost impossible to stall so I can finish my margins at a very low speed which means I’m doing better dentistry.

Also, since I’m rarely running them wide open, the noise is less and patients have commented on the fact the procedures are less stressful.

Today’s electric handpieces are better, stronger, and more reliable than ever before. You owe it to yourself to check them out.

More from Dr. Flucke: 5 amazing dental technologies you should be using every day

Wrapping it up

I’ve hit on a few things we don’t take advantage of, but this could have been the longest article of my career had I mentioned everything we fail to use to capacity. I know I’ve left some things out. My advice is to take a look at your office and take an inventory of things you need to better utilize. Then bring up the list at your next staff meeting and make a concerted effort to increase utilization of your list. I really feel you’ll see a benefit in your practice.