Working towards digital dentistry

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Digital dentistry has become the buzzword of our industry over the last few years and no one truly knows what that means when it comes to the day-to-day running of a dental practice. Most of us are already on our digital journey in our home life and maybe, without us realising, this has moved into our work life too.

If it means using some aspect of digital technology within the workflow then most dental practices have achieved this already. Very few practices are now without a computer to manage their patient list, maybe a digital X-ray or even a digital camera. That’s without considering the dental laboratory side, where a large proportion of crown & bridge cases are scanned and designed on CAD/CAM software and are made by milling and 3d printing every day. Even Prosthetics, more and more, are being produced using CAD/CAM.

All these can still be considered as digital islands within a traditional analogue process. There is no true digital dentistry yet, as last time I looked there are very few robots in dental practices - although some might disagree!

Realistically, when you break it down digital dentistry really only means better and more consistent dentistry for our patients. All these digital tools improve our workflow, give us better communication, make us more accurate and move us to repeatable and improved results: this can’t be bad.

The trouble we now have is that we produce so much data every day and, with all this information, the danger is that we might not be taking the best from it. Workflow is everything and many digital systems do not interact well. Did you know that 90% of the world’s data has been created in the last 2 years? This is a staggering statistic. If you compare how many pictures you take daily now to how many you took 10 years ago and consider the last time you actually took a moment to look through them all on your mobile phone, you will agree we are being smothered by data overload.

Luckily within our working dental life there is usually a helping hand or support desk to guide us through the jungle of data and more and more this should become your dental laboratory. Why? Ultimately the end goal has stayed the same: we all improve or repair the patient’s smile and function. Digital dentistry brings improved communication between you and your laboratory in a way that has never before been achieved, unless you were sitting next to your technician.

  • Patient images can be modified to show them how they will look after your finished
  • Digital pictures emailed, securely, to a lab allows us to achieve better results
  • Images sent back to the surgery can point out discrepancies in impression enabling us to ask questions before we go ahead
  • 3d images of the restoration pre creation can be sent to confirm your requirements before even a tool is lifted

However the biggest leap is oral scanning. At last we have achieved scanners that are fast, easy to use and accurate. If you still think oral scanners are not quite there yet, you’re wrong. Every day we receive many cases digitally, rather than through traditional dentistry. The cases are everything from complex implant cases to simple single crowns.

In Dental Technology Services, our laboratory, oral scan cases have the highest success rate of all our restorations and require virtually no remakes.
With all this said, you do need the helping hand to guide you along the digital highway. The world of digital is simpler than you think but suppliers often confuse it with badly thought out workflows and little understanding of the end goal. If someone had handed you an iPhone ten years ago and told you everything it was capable of, more than likely you would hand it back. Oral scanning doesn’t need to be complicated; the sales guys make it that way.  The role of a laboratory these days is to cut through the jargon from various brands out there and give you best advice on how to achieve a quality restoration. Exactly as we have been doing for many years with new and changing tools.

Embrace the positive changes of digital dentistry and, with the right partners, you will never look back.

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Posted by Graham Littlejohn

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Graham is a Director for DTS and Core3dcentres.

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