Dental technology has the ability to help your practice evolve for the better. Don’t be a dinosaur: Embrace it.
By Dona Schulz, RDH, BS, MBA
AS ALL SCHOOL CHILDREN learn in science class, dinosaurs roamed the earth for nearly 180 million years until their disappearance some 65 million years ago. A definite cause—meteor, mammals, too many saturated fats—has never been conclusively established, but we do know that the beasts’ inability to adapt to constant environmental change put them, eventually, on the glide path to extinction.
Like just about everyone these days, dental providers of all stripes are trying to navigate our brave new technological world. If like the dinosaurs we fail to adapt, we risk employee turnover and patient attrition. The benefits of adaptation are clear: Digital dentistry offers convenience, efficiency, an adrenaline rush, bells, whistles and improved job satisfaction overall. In nearly every practice I train, interestingly, doctors confide to me that their patients are the single biggest influence on their digital- technology decisions.
The University of Kentucky College of Dentistry is a good example. Its technological efforts touch every aspect of the school, with digital tech the standard in diagnosis, computer-aided design, manufacturing and more. During the 2017 American Academy of Periodontology Scientific Session, Dr. Marcus Abboud, UKCD’s associate dean of digital dentistry, noted that those who don’t embrace the new regime might as well retire: “Digital dentistry,” he said pointedly, “is here to stay.”
Is it ever. Think of it from patients’ perspective: CAD/CAM, for example, has replaced the traditional ooey-gooey impression materials that patients remember as messy, uncomfortable and inconvenient. Likewise, pouring and trimming models, humidity and temperature concerns and product shelf life have become relics. Recall the mindset of the put-upon patient of yore, forced to endure impressions for not just the restoration but the temporary crown or bridge as well. And if there were bubbles, bleeding, moisture or drag? Yes, more impressions.
Digital CAD/CAM advances offer high scanning accuracy; a total patient scan now requires less than does one quad- rant impression with traditional polyvinyl siloxane. Consumable supplies are significantly reduced, too, meaning far less in-house lab clutter.
What’s in It for Your Practice?
CAD/CAM enables an auxiliary team to scan patients, design the restoration and mill a crown to be seated all in the same day. For the first time, our profession recognizes dental assistants as providers in their own right who add great value to a practice’s bottom line. Assistants are key contributors who help a practice reduce lab costs and enhance patient convenience by eliminating the need for multiple appointments. Even when submitting cases digitally to the lab, doctors can collaborate with their lab technicians, even specialists, making the entire workflow more effective and efficient.
Specialists who adopt intraoral-scanning technology become rock stars within their referral networks. Scanners can scan implant abutments, surgical drill guides, occlusal guards and more, obviating the need for patient appointments between dentist and surgeon. Straumann, for example, has developed CARES Connect, a cloud-based collaboration network in- stalled on the company’s CARES IO Scanner. It creates an open platform that connects dentists, specialists, prosthodontists and laboratories, as well as design, 3D printing and production centers.
Intraoral scanners can scan for orthodontic aligners, study models, crown and bridge procedures, partial dentures, implant abutments and crowns, drill guides and occlusal guards.
There are some special considerations when using any IO scanner on crown and bridge preps; no scanner currently on the market can accommodate a feather margin or undercuts. Preps need to display supragingival shoulder or chamfer margins, with rounded internal line angles and parallel axial walls. Along with exposing clear margins, isolation and retraction are necessary, ideally with either a double- cord technique or laser technology.
How Do You Get Started?
The first step toward adopting digital technology is to work with a Benco Equipment Specialist to determine your needs. Some key things to consider:
- What types of procedures will you be performing with an IO scanner?
- Are crown and bridge margins clearly defined with shoulder/chamfer preps?
- Do you have all necessary isolation materials to prevent saliva and/or bleeding from distorting the image?
- Most scanners still require scan powder for full arch scan validation, even if they’re powderless systems, for speed and accuracy.
- Be sure to consider handpiece size for comfort and ease when working with patients.
- Set realistic expectations for your initial learning curve with an IO scanner. At first, you’ll probably require 10 to 15 quadrant scans and 20 to 30 full-mouth scans to become proficient.
- Are your treatment rooms set up so that they can best accommodate technology? At minimum, they should contain high-speed and low- speed suction, and an air/water syringe. Isolation is important to ensure a dry field.
- If you’re purchasing a mill, do you have adequate space to accommodate a computer-aided design center, along with a ceramic oven to fabricate crowns?
What’s Your Return on Investment?
Patient demand is great, and dental teams are learning how to embrace all this new technology, but understanding how to create efficient workflow is truly imperative. As such, Benco’s Practice Management Coaching team is dedicated to helping you not only invest in the technology but also be able to create a total patient engagement experience while bolstering your results, both clinical and bottom-line. Our experts offer customized practice assessment and clinical coaching, too, to evaluate growth opportunities going forward.
As both a Benco Practice Management Clinical Coach and a Technology Trainer, I work with doctors to assess their current situation and provide them with customized technology recommendations. Once the technology is in place, I train the clinical team to use it—and thereby to increase patient case acceptance.
Unlike the mysterious, still-argued-over extinction of the dinosaurs, dentists certainly can’t dispute that technology is here to stay—and, inevitably, change further still. Practices that embrace it will thrive. Technology empowers dental teams while better serving patients who increasingly demand convenience, fewer visits and less time in the chair. Satisfied patients, of course, share their experiences with their friends and family, and generate referrals. Doctors who welcome change continually raise our profession’s standards: They evolve. They embrace technology. And in doing so they greatly reduce the risk of their own professional extinction.
DONA SCHULZ, RDH, BS, MBA is a Benco Dental Practice Management Coach and Benco-certified Technology Trainer, helping practices implement comprehensive periodontal wellness programs, optimize case acceptance and adopt leading dental technology. She is a registered dental hygienist and professional speaker who has also been a corporate national dental hygiene director and adjunct hygiene instructor.