Visualize Something Better

To attempt to be on the technological leading edge as a practice today, with the number of high-quality technology product choices in the marketplace is truly mind-boggling. I have been fortunate in my role as President of Pride Institute to have the privilege to work closely with industry experts who are able to offer valuable input in this critical area.

My goal is to share the information based on my own experience and what I have learned from the experts to guide the reader whose vision is to create a technologically relevant practice.

Images and imagination

Technology has the ability to touch every aspect of dentistry, from diagnosis and treatment, to communications with colleagues and patients. 3D cone beam computed tomography (CBCT) provides us with extensive clinical data that translates to more ideal treatment solutions for our patients. Digital x-ray brings clarity and detail to 2D radiography, and the dentist's ability to slice and rotate an image in 3D results in more exact measurements, less invasive procedures and more successful outcomes. Offices with digital intraoral scanners and CAD/CAM can offer more immediate results and shorter treatment times. Practice management and imaging software store patient records, digital images and intraoral photographs, while simultaneously sending patients' e-mail appointment reminders to mobile devices.

Technology leader Dr. Marty Jablow told me that all forms of visualization, such as digital radiography, 3D cone beam imaging and caries detection devices, are imperative for the technology-savvy practice. He said increased visualization offers "more information to better diagnose patients' conditions and enhance their treatment." Dr. John Flucke, Technology Editor for DPR, concurred.

The modern dental office "needs to have an advanced caries detection system, either visual or non-visual." Both of these colleagues appreciate the opportunity to diagnose a problem at its earliest stages, for easier treatment, to avoid, as Dr. Flucke described, "replacing huge chunks of natural tooth structure with a man-made substance."

CBCT imaging is already a must-have for some practitioners. "It is a 3D world, and cone beam is going to completely change the way we practice," Dr. Flucke said. "Cone beam 'rocks my world' on a daily basis because the scans let me see issues that I had no way of anticipating with 2D imaging methods."

He added, "Cone beam helps me treat my patients better, lowers their stress (and mine) and allows me to treat them with less pain and faster recovery because I have all of their information."

Dr. Flucke also advised doctors to consider some form of electronic medical record system. "It is a digital world, and it is only going to become more digital," he said. Dentists need to take advantage of the efficiencies and ability of the digital platform to make the best use of patient information. "With all of the data we now have, it pays to embrace the concept of the digital record because no matter how many bells and whistles you have, they don't mean a thing if it doesn't make the experience better for the patient."

Helping you sort it out

With all of the promising products on the market, dentists should have a resource they can trust in their quest for choosing the best technologies available today. The recent Pride Institute's Best of Class Technology Awards were chosen after a rigorous assessment by a distinguished panel of known technology experts including those mentioned in this article. Technologies were divided into four categories: Foundational, Diagnostic, Therapeutic and Emerging.

Winners in the Foundational category were:
Henry Schein Practice Solutions' Dentrix G4
DEXIS Platinum digital sensor
Apteryx imaging software

Winners in the Diagnostic category were:
Gendex's GXCB-500 HD cone beam system
Sirona Dental Systems' CEREC AC for digital impressions and CEREC for CAD/CAM
Teskscan Inc.'s T-Scan computerized occlusal analysis system
Air Techniques' Spectra caries detection device
Aribex's Nomad handheld x-ray

The standouts in the Therapeutic and Emerging categories were:
Discus Dental's NV Laser
ProDrive's upgrade turbine
Curve Dental's Hero Web-based practice management software
Milestone Scientific's STA computer-controlled local anesthetic delivery

The Panel Predicts

The future promises even more choices. Dr. Larry Emmott, Phoenix, Ariz.-based technology expert, and author of the "Emmott on Technology" blog, believes the future will bring "amazing changes in the dental office." He projects that digital technology will continue to drive innovation because of its networking capabilities.

"With the ability to upload digital information to the Internet, we will analyze that data, even outside of our offices, compare to other people, and we can aggregate the information. We will be able to do things using the Internet that we couldn't even imagine doing in the office."

Dr. Jablow looks forward to even more simplified processes and even less invasive techniques. "Technology is not limited to electronic gadgets and gizmos, but also includes materials," he said. "We are still looking for the 'holy grail' of composites—easy placement, bulk fill, self adjusting."

Along those same lines, he looks forward to "the ability to reverse the caries process, re-mineralize teeth and even limit the amount of minimally invasive dentistry needed."

Dr. Flucke anticipates a time when all of the data from 2D and 3D digital imaging, digital impression systems, and other technologies can be merged together.

"For example, if a cone beam scan can be integrated with a digital impression system, we would be able to view the digital impression placed inside of the 3D volume. That would result in more predictive treatment planning."

He also foresees what he humorously calls "Implant-in-a-Box." He explains, "For an implant case, we can take all of the patient's information, merge it together, digitally treatment plan it and send it off, and get back everything that you need to treat the case in one box. That way, we won't have to work a case out 'on the fly' or inventory parts. It will be simpler for the dentist and the patient, and it may even reduce the cost to the patient."

So the future? Caries digital detection becomes standard procedure; a turbine will redefine the handpiece industry; two dimensional will morph to three dimensional in every aspect of dentistry; practice management software will provide even more sophisticated benchmarks with interactive communication to guide the growth of your practice; the Internet will play an even more dramatic role in clinical and practice communication; and many more procedures that come from technological genius will be provided in house…and I promise you this is only the beginning! Stay tuned.

Article by Dr. Lou Shuman, President of the Pride Institute