The modern dental practice continues to evolve at a very rapid pace. Many systems that were paper and film based for close to a century are being replaced by digital counterparts. There are now computers in almost every office, and large percentage of offices are using digital radiography, intraoral cameras, digital cameras, practice and image management software, and many have embraced the Internet to handle mundane chores such as confirming patient appointments and even scheduling online. In short, the concept of a “paperless” practice is very realistic and obtainable in 2012.
A review of these newer technologies shows that all of them were introduced to the dental market with very slow and sustained growth for 5-10 years before they became more popular. As with many businesses, dental practices are slow to adapt to change, and dentists want to be assured that investments they make in new technology will show a positive return on that investment. While some new technologies have dubious value, there are currently three that were introduced over the past few years that I feel will be of great benefit to dental offices in the near future.
Cone Beam or 3-D Imaging is the new frontier for digital radiography. While these systems go by many different names, the best way to describe the system is that it’s a cross between a digital pan/ceph and a CAT Scan machine. The most popular models right now include the iCat, the Sirona Galileos, and the Gendex GXCB-500. While I could describe the system in detail, this excerpt from an i-Cat user does the best job of explaining why they are becoming so popular: “Compared to medical scanners, Cone Beam Scanning is ten times more accurate while reducing a patient’s exposure to radiation by more than 95%. Pre-surgical implant treatment planning, preparing to remove impacted third molars, determining how sinus grafts and ridge augmentations have healed, and determining the ideal position for a single-tooth replacements, are just some of the benefits of Cone Beam Scanning Technology”.
Dentists are working in a very small and confined area inside the mouth. Anything that will assist them to see what they are doing and seeing it more clearly will improve on the quality of care we can offer our patients. The systems that have been popular for many years are loupes, magnifying glasses that attach to your regular glasses to enhance what we are able to see. The problems that some dentists have complained about with loupes include a limited field of vision and poor posture related to that. The modern alternative is nothing like the loupes of the past! What a few companies have done is to build a high-tech system that includes a microscope and an LCD monitor, allowing images from the scope to be displayed on the screen in real-time. By utilizing a system like this, it allows the dentist to sit comfortably by the chair, with proper posture. Many of them are designed to use a slim design so that they can fit into most dental operatories, and since all dentists are different, the mounting options for these systems are also varied, allowing the monitor to be attached to a light pole, wall, or ceiling. Of course, they can integrate with current imaging software already in use in the practice. There are a few companies that produce these systems.
Who would have thought that the age-old system of taking impressions would become passé in 2012, but the new systems from Cadent, called the iTero, and the 3M Lava, aim to do just that. According to the Cadent, it is designed to replace the uncomfortable and imprecise method of conventional impression taking. iTero—powered by proprietary imaging technology—enables the dentist to take a digital scan of the patient’s teeth and bite, make any necessary adjustments in real-time, and then transmit the file via a wireless Internet connection to a Cadent-partnering laboratory for further processing. From there the digital file is transmitted to Cadent where a model is milled. The physical model is then sent to the laboratory where a highly precise physical restoration is created. There are significant benefits such as increased patient satisfaction, improved clinical outcomes, and enhanced office efficiencies.
It’s impossible to predict which technologies will take off in dentistry for the future. Many great concepts have become the BetaMax of the dental world. However, the three I’ve listed here are already generating some great press and have the right concepts and design to become an integral part of dental practices in the next few years.