A Digital Decade in Dentistry

17 February, 2020 / management
 Susie Anderson Sharkey  

We are continually moving forward, gaining experience from technology; even from tech that will be rightly consigned to history

As I am writing this, we have entered into, not just a new year but also a new decade. New Year is a time traditionally for both reflection on the past year(s) and a look forward to what lies ahead. It’s fair to say that as we look back on the last decade in the dental industry that a lot has happened.

Susie Anderson Sharkey

Perhaps one of the biggest changes has been the use of 21st century digital technology in every part of the workplace. In reception over the past few years we have seen the rise of using a tablet that enables patients to fill in and/or update their personal information. This not only saves time at reception but also enables the patient to fill in private details without having to be taken into a different room for a confidential chat. Any information that is filled in by the patient is automatically stored into their patient records online and eliminates the use of filling in a form by hand, the receptionist scanning it into the patient records and then shredding the document. Any changes recorded by the patient can be discussed with the dentist privately in the surgery. We have been using the Clinipad in our dental practice for about four years now and, overall, it has been well received. However, we do still keep a blank paper medical history for our elderly patients who have never used a tablet.

Patients can sometimes be wary of change and it’s important that adequate training in the whys and wherefores of new technology is made available to front of house staff.

Another change at reception we have seen over the past few years is the ability for patients to choose their appointment times and dates online without having to call the surgery. This puts the patient in control of their appointment, not to mention the actual time of making the appointment, which can of course be anytime day or night as there is a 24-hour access to the appointment-making system.

In the surgery there have been huge leaps and bounds in the past decade regarding the digital aspect of practice. Many practices now use a digital scanner for the scanning of impressions which takes away the need for the use of alginate, patient gagging, inaccurate impressions, longer waiting times; the list is endless. Anyone who has used, or is using a digital impression scanner, will know exactly the benefits to the practice and patients. Alongside the use of the digital impression scanner is the use of CAD/CAM technology which enables the dentist to fabricate the crowns, inlays, onlays and/or veneers chairside, thus enabling a single visit prep and fit which busy patients value. Obviously, there are outlay implications regarding the use of digital workflow but speaking to one of the well-trained reps should produce a solution which will enable the dentist to offer this as a desirable option of patient choice. And if there is one thing we are well aware of, the patients do have a choice of when, where and how they will spend their hard-earned cash.

“We have been using the Clinipad in our dental practice for about four years now”

The use of digital x-rays, although this has been around for more than 10 years, has come on immensely in the past decade as has the use of CT scanning. We have also seen in more recent years the use of dental 3D printing and I have used a digital printer on a number of occasions to print out models for teeth whitening. It is a fairly straightforward technique, the huge benefits being of course precision, accuracy and productivity. 3D printing is easily incorporated into the digital workflow and is useful not merely for teeth whitening but for producing for example prosthetic models for crowns and bridges, removable partial dentures, surgical guides, again the list is (almost) endless. 3D printing is probably one of the newer kids on the block and it remains to be seen how the industry will embrace this technology.

So that, my dental colleagues, is a brief overview of a very few technological advances that have emerged in our industry in the past decade. There are of course many more, but space does not permit me to include everything. In looking into the next decade, what can we expect from an industry where there is still much room for advancement and improvement? As must be, we are continually moving on, moving forward, gaining experience from technology that has worked, and also from technology that perhaps will be rightly consigned to history.

As human beings, we are very inquisitive (some may say nosey) creatures and this has led to great development and introduction of new technologies in every age. I’m hoping that this new decade will prove to be no less the case and we can look forward to some exciting advances in our industry in the next decade.

If you wish to contact Susie about this article or other practice management issues she can be reached at susie@dentalfx.co.uk

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