What does the future hold for dental practices?

February 11, 2013
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.

Issue 11

  From Alice in Wonderland: Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here? The Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to. Alice: I don’t much care where. The Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.


From Alice in Wonderland:

Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?

The Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.

Alice: I don’t much care where.

The Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.

Alice: …so long as I get somewhere.

The Cat: Oh, you’re sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.


This is one of my favorite quotes, and I’ve used it in articles before mainly because it holds so true. When dealing with the future, you’ve got choices to make and paths to choose, and so often those choices have a tremendous impact on where you end up!

Whenever we at DPR decide to do an article on what the future holds, it’s a double-edged sword. I love it because it gives me a chance to really stretch my imagination, live on the edge, and make predictions based on nuggets of info I’ve gleaned from the industry. Yet on the other side, there’s always the chance of it all going way wrong, and three to five years from now, friends are showing me this article and wanting to know why we’re still not using the Flux Capacitor on a daily basis. Such is the life of the Technology Editor. These things are a high-risk/high-reward kind of endeavor!

So what does the future hold? Let’s take a look and make some educated guesses.

The eyes have it

We’re visual creatures, and studies have confirmed many times over that more than 85% of what we learn about our environment comes to us through our eyes. People easily forget what they are told, but they retain much more of what they see. Because of this and because education and informed consent are such a big part of what we do in the health care arena, making sure our patients understand what we are proposing is a tremendous part of what we do every day.

The origin of the word “doctor” actually comes from the Latin verb “docre,” which meant “to teach,” so visual education is right in line with what we are supposed to be doing anyway.

The explosion of computer-generated animation has really allowed some creative people to bring highly engaging video to market. The best part is that because it’s done in an animated way, it isn’t gory or scary. Thanks to YouTube, most people on the planet are now used to watching video and appreciate what video brings to the “educational table.”

Ramping it Up

Now let’s consider what we can do with this video. We’ve seen the progression of the patient education video from VHS to Toy Story 3, but what if we combined it with some other technologies? Currently, some of these programs will allow you to e-mail a link to the animations to patients and then track how many times it’s viewed. That’s the power of having the Internet linked to the animation.

Some, like Guru, even allow you to place the patient’s own images into the presentation. Imagine being able to create a custom animation, upload it to a server, and then track how many times it is viewed! It’s great marketing as well as great proof of informing the patient.

Then … let’s take it to a whole new level. Imagine these kind of amazing videos running in your reception area and in your operatories in 3D!

There are ways to allow for 3D viewing that do not require glasses, and they are being developed as I type this. I’ve had a chance to see some of these videos and they are flat out amazing! Think of the impact that will have on patient perceptions of your practice and acceptance of your treatment!

Throw in the iPad and other types of “slate” devices and you can see how this will change the way we do things for the better.

It’s a 3D world

With the huge impact 3D will have on our practices, let’s talk about integration between other 3D technologies.

Cone beam volumetric imaging is changing the way we treatment plan and the way we deliver treatment. At the same time, digital impression systems, such as the Cadent iTero, are allowing doctors to do away with traditional impressions and create models by taking a series of intraoral pictures or by taking intraoral video (with the 3M Lava C.O.S.).

Independently, these two technologies are incredibly powerful, but when you combine them, it takes it up several notches. All the major players in cone beam imaging are working on full integration with digital impression systems. CEREC is currently integrating with the Sirona Galileos, which is a closed system, but other companies like D4D, Cadent, and others are working on an open system that allows the digital impression images to be placed into the 3D cone beam scan.

This allows you to actually see the prep inside the 3D volume. This whole situation is something that can truly take treatment planning, guided surgery and restoration completely digital. Think about the possibilities of that. At some point, you could be able to sit at your desk and design an entire case practically from start to finish.

Living on the 405

Keeping in line with some of the visual things I mentioned above, it seems that there is a lot going on with the wavelength of 405 nm. This very light purple color has been found to be able to aid in caries detection (Air Techniques’ Spectra) as well as help increase our accuracy in oral cancer detection (Dentlight’s DOE, Trimira’s Identafi 3000 ultra).

The fact that these devices help you see things better and more accurately as well as the potential to visually share this info with patients makes them strong players in the operatory.

Of course it’s not all about just the 405. There are other light devices for oral cancer screening (LED Dental’s VELscope, Zila’s ViziLite), which are in the 400-500 nm range, and also for caries detection (Acteon’s SoproLIFE ).

Cloudy with a chance of efficiency

You’ll be hearing more and more about “The Cloud” in the future. This was one of those things that was talked about in the late 1990s as being the future of the Internet, but we’re just now getting the bandwidth to make it happen. Keeping your info online for anywhere access is now a reality. How many of you are currently using Gmail, Hotmail, or Yahoo Mail? My calendar, my travel, my articles, my lectures, are all stored online on a server “in the cloud.” If the Internet disappeared today, I just might disappear too.

The idea of cloud computing is a great one. Once your info is electronic and on a server, you can access it from any device with an connection. That means my iPod Touch, my iPad, my laptop, my desktop and my phone can all get my info when need be.

Now there is a company that is taking this idea to dental management software. Curve Dental has become the face of cloud computing for dentistry. Its software is run over the Web and all you need is a computer with a Web browser and an Internet connection. There is nothing to install, nothing to backup and nothing to maintain.

The company continues to gain traction and roll out new advancements on a regular basis.

Enough predictions?

I hope so, because I’m out of space. I have a suspicion that the next few years are going to see some pretty stunning technologies arrive that will make dramatic differences in how we go about helping our patients. Some of them are listed here, some we’ll just have to wait for!