A winner in digital dentistry's open versus closed system debate

June 10, 2019

A look at why selectively open systems have won the day.

When scanners first hit the dental market in the early 2000s, many of the systems were closed. At the time, closed systems were touted as offering more predictability because they kept everything controlled, which made sense to the early adopters investing in this technology. But over the years, the benefits of open systems have emerged, and the idea of a closed system has really become a thing of the past.

“In the beginning, we were not quite as advanced in software connectivity,” says Lee Culp, CDT, of Sculpture Studios. “Now, with the way companies are working together, opaen is better. It allows us to pick and choose what we use based on our needs.”

At first, scanners were fairly limited in their capabilities, says Dr. Chad Duplantis of Fossil Creek Dental Partners, partly because the technology was young and partly because they were closed off from other systems. The first company to offer a truly open connection was 3M, and eventually other big names like Henry Schein and Sirona did the same. So for the last three or four years, open systems have become the norm.

Today, scanners, which are the gateway into digital dentistry, offer seemingly endless capabilities. They provide high levels of accuracy and can integrate with mills and communicate with cone beam machines. This has led to higher adoption rates, with more dentists investing in technologies that allow them to offer enhanced patient care and optimal results.

Related reading: How the digital workflow will enhance communication and reliability

Why the move to open systems

One of the biggest reasons manufacturers started to open their systems is because customers demanded it, says Dr. John Flucke, chief development officer for Cellerant Consulting and chief dental editor and technology editor for Dental Products Report. They wanted to have choices, and closed systems didn’t allow for that.

“These systems open the door for more dentists to become interested in the technology,” Dr. Duplantis says. “Dentists don’t want limitations, they want endless possibilities. They want choice in the marketplace and they want to be able to use what works best for their practice.”

Once companies started opening their systems, those that didn’t follow suit likely saw sales start to decline, prompting them to open their systems as well, Dr. Flucke says. If they were going to compete, they’d have to make the jump.

“When two huge industry leaders like Henry Schein and Sirona say open is the way to go, it’s really hard to resist,” Dr. Flucke says. “When they announced they were opening up their systems, it was like the Berlin Wall coming down.”                                                                       

                           

The benefits

While giving dental professionals more options is a huge benefit, opening systems also puts more pressure on the manufacturers to deliver high-quality products, Dr. Flucke says. Customers are no longer locked into one platform, so manufacturers are more motivated to continue to improve their systems and stand out from the competition.

Open systems also make it easier for dental professionals to upgrade their technology, whether it’s a scanner, 3D printer or digital impression system, Dr. Flucke says. Let’s say you buy a 3D printer because it’s the best one on the market, then a new one comes out six months later. You can keep using the one you have or sell it (which Dr. Flucke says is easy to do in today’s market) and upgrade to the newer model. The dentist buying the older system knows it will interface with other technologies, as will the one you’re going to incorporate into your practice.

Because today’s systems are open, more dental professionals now feel comfortable investing in the technology, Dr. Duplantis says, which has helped spur adoption rates. Even though these systems have been around for the last 15 or 20 years, they’ve been slow to take off. That’s starting to change, with more dentists seeing the advantages digital dentistry can provide.

“We’re in a huge phase of growth right now,” he says. “Every company is trying to come out with a scanner or buy a scanner from someone else.”

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Investing in your first system

If you’re among the dental professionals ready to invest in your first scanner, there’s a lot to consider before making the purchase. Knowing the systems are open makes it easier, but there are other factors you must weigh to determine what’s best for you and your practice.

Before making your decision, Dr. Duplantis suggests talking to other dentists and lab technicians about what they’re using. Both can prove to be invaluable resources. Ask your lab technician what systems he prefers and why, and which systems have the most success. Talk with other dentists about what they like and don’t like about the systems they’ve invested in and what challenges they faced when they first got started.

“Ask your colleagues how long it took to fully incorporate the system into their office and if the learning curve was excessive,” Dr. Duplantis says. “Find out if it was what they expected, if it was a painful experience and if they would do it again.”

Clinicians should purchase systems that meet their needs, Dr. Flucke says. If you do a lot of cosmetic dentistry, for example, look for systems with features that will help you improve on what you already offer. The device you purchase should do what you need it to do and save you steps in your workflow. Avoid buying systems with features you know you’ll never use. While you want room to grow, you also don’t need to spend extra money on bells and whistles you’re never going to take advantage of.  

Related reading: How technology is changing the implant workflow

It’s also important to consider the data plan, Dr. Duplantis says. If the scanner you’re looking at is more expensive because it comes with a data plan, be sure to determine what the data plan includes and what the support with it entails. Basically, make sure it’s worth the extra cost. If the scanner goes down and the company can’t get you a new one for four to six weeks, Dr. Duplantis suggests you keep looking. You need a company that continues to support you after selling you the technology, and can get you a new system right away if you’re ever in a bind.

To Culp, company support is the most important thing to consider before investing in a system.

“The equipment, the software, the scanner, whatever they do becomes secondary. If you have a problem you need somebody you can call who will fix it fast,” Culp says. “In our lab, we had a scanner go down and our support group, CORE3D, had a scanner to us the next day. We were only down half a day before we were good to go again. Support is No. 1, especially for people new to this technology.”

Software is also an important consideration, but basically comes down to finding one you like, Culp says. Most of them do the same things, it’s just determining which one you interface with best.

Speed, wand size, ease of use and patient comfort are also important to consider when investing in dental scanners.

Going digital

Open systems have certainly won the day, and scanners are now faster, more accurate and offer more capabilities than ever before. Take some time to determine how you plan to use the scanner in your digital workflow before deciding which option is right for you, then make the investment. After the initial learning curve, you’ll find you’re able to offer an improved patient experience and optimal patient care.