Digital Dentistry involves any dentistry that uses digital or computer-based tools instead of older methods commonly used in various types of dentistry. There are several benefits of digital dentistry and this article will list some of the most common ones, as well as discuss some of the challenges that dentists are struggling with. Before we dive into that discussion, one thing that is important to consider when thinking about purchasing this type of technology is why you really want to do this in the first place.
Digital impressions related to Computer-Aided Design/Computer-Aided Manufacture (CAD/CAM), have been used since the 1960s in the manufacture of cars and planes. The first commercially available CEREC was introduced in the 1980s for the fabrication of ceramic inlays and Onlays. Currently, digital impressions using a digital scanner are considered the future of dentistry and replace the traditional dental impressions previously used for various dental restorations and appliances. The obvious benefits of digital scanning include accuracy and predictability, reliability, faster results, a much better experience for patients, as well as no mess as compared to traditional impressions, and an elegant high-tech tool that impresses every patient. So why is it that, despite all the advantages and patient benefits of this type of technology, many dentists are still not embracing it?
Cost and the learning curve are the most frequently mentioned issues slowing the adoption of digital dentistry. The cost of entry into the digital world is tremendous, and the insurance companies and fee guides do not take that into account. With rising costs to run a dental practice, the idea of adding another piece of equipment at a high cost, and the high time investment in order to learn and train the dentist and staff on its use and maintenance, many dentists are waiting in hopes that the price of this investment will go down.
Costs of purchasing are compounded by the need for systems to be compatible with each other and with future technology, as well as subscriptions and support in order to keep the software running.
Technology has also been a challenge for the dental profession as dentists are notoriously slow adopters due to their general nature. Many dentists are taught in school to be over-analytical and cautious, and this is further reinforced by constant pressure to perform without any deficiencies. In addition, a lack of communication with staff and patients regarding the true and long-term benefits of this type of technology adds to the barriers that can lead to stagnation rather than progress.
The learning curve is another challenge as dental professionals are overwhelmed with how much time they spend in their practice. For each hour they spend clinically with patients, there are at least 1-2 more hours per patient that are required of them in order to write up clinical notes, review treatment plans, write never-ending letters to insurance companies, answer emails, run and review reports, meet with their team, train team members, monitor and review sterilization procedures, not to mention continue learning, etc. What is not visible to most people when they leave their dentist’s office is how many more hours their dentist needs to put into the business in order to keep it running. As a result of a shortage of available time, dentists are resistant to change and feel that if something is working, why bring in a new piece of technology that will require massive time, and resources, and possibly create more issues? The fear is that the amount of time needed to overcome the learning curve is going to result in the technology never being utilized anyways.
Another common complaint from many dentists is that their staff sabotages the adoption of new technology due to the additional training, time, and learning curve needed to integrate it into the practice. In most dental offices, the staff members are already running around day in and day out and the idea of adding “another thing” to their already busy day does not sound exciting.
One of the most surprising challenges I hear about frequently (and have experienced myself in the past) is certain patients’ comments when a new piece of technology is introduced. Comments like: “Must be nice to get new toys all the time”, or “So that’s what you bought with that crown I paid for!”, “Ah Doc, I see you are rolling in money. Are you going to use this thing to tell me that I need another crown so you can then buy a helicopter?”. Likely well-intentioned to be a joke, comments like this are fairly common and can be upsetting, causing the dentist to be cautious when looking to improve their practice.
So with all these to consider, why did I invest in so much digital technology, you may ask? That is an important question. The Why behind this decision led to the acquisition of all the technology you see in my office despite all the reasons not to. And that is how human beings make all decisions anyways. We make them emotionally, in our limbic system, and then use logic, from the neocortex region of our brain, to justify those decisions. Understanding why we want what we want can help us not only make the decision to buy or not to buy easily despite all the challenges, but also be able to explain it to others along with the many benefits for them that come from that decision.
About Dr. Agatha Bis
Oakville Dentist, Dr. Agatha Bis, DDS received her Doctor of Dental Surgery degree from the University of Western Ontario in 1996. With over 25 years of clinical experience creating beautiful and healthy smiles, Dr. Bis offers a unique approach to dentistry, blending modern dental practices with the use of digital technology to optimize health outcomes. With thousands of hours in post-graduate training, her unique focus and expertise in treating TMD and providing options in restorative dentistry, along with digital technology have led to helping numerous patients resolve chronic and debilitating dental challenges.