Over the last decade, technological advancements have played a considerable part in the development of a range of industries. And dentistry is no different. From electronic record keeping and impression taking to treatment planning and producing appliances in-house, digital technology is having a significant impact on the industry.
Technological innovation allows many dental practices to have more access to the equipment tools and processes that were previously too expensive. Developments in technology are helping to completely change dentistry by providing more efficient workflows, better treatment outcomes, and increased patient comfort.
As digital technologies continue to replace traditional workflows and become the standard of dental care, these solutions will become a necessary consideration for any dental practice.
Digital dentistry means the use of digital tools and processes for diagnostic and treatment processes. Digital tools are used across all areas of the practice, from equipment and scheduling to patient treatment and lab collaboration. Switching from analog to digital dentistry makes dental procedures more efficient and can improve treatment outcomes. 95% of dentists still use traditional processes such as taking impressions. Still, digital dentistry is quickly expanding as more and more digital tools have become available, and dental practices look to meet changing patient demands.
In the past, digital dentistry has been thought of as dental CAD/CAM technology, which enables dental restorations such as crowns, veneers, and inlays to be fabricated using computerized milling technology. These systems were harder to use, costly, and required time to use, so adoption was slow. Today’s technology allows ease of use, accuracy, and speed to simplify every aspect of dentistry. Devices such as intraoral scanners and 3D printers allow dentists to take impressions digitally and produce appliances in-house.
Digital dentistry helps dentists to streamline workflows and provide patients with more comfortable, efficient, and accurate services. It is slowly becoming something that is no longer a nice-to-have. The driving force behind digital dentistry is the seamless integration, linking equipment, and software that provides a highly automated and efficient workflow.
Many dental practices are beginning to incorporate digital elements into their workflows. However, a more unified approach to digital dentistry is required to see the real benefits. Digital dentistry requires unity of software and devices to improve workflow optimization within a practice, unity between dentists and their chosen labs or collaborators, and unity between manufacturers and the needs of dentists and their customers.
Achieving unity across all of these elements helps dentists fully utilize the equipment and software they implement. Dentsply Sirona’s offering, from intraoral scanners and 3D printers to cloud platforms, helps to provide an end-to-end solution for dentists who want to improve patient experience and optimize workflows. These solutions provide dentists with the ability to meet a range of patient needs from diagnosis through to the final outcome.
Patient experience is an essential factor to consider when growing your dental practice. The discomfort involved with traditional dental procedures means many patients are uncomfortable visiting their dental practice. Improving processes and treatment options to make them quicker and more comfortable can ease this. Satisfied patients are more likely to return and recommend the clinic to others.
With digital technologies, treatments can be achieved in a more comfortable and minimally invasive way with greater accuracy. For patients, greater accuracy means better treatment outcomes and time saved on sitting in the dentist's chair, and the number of visits required to the practice.
Communication between dentists, labs, and dental technicians is essential for successful treatment outcomes and patient satisfaction. Being able to reliably and accurately share data from anywhere, anytime, will significantly improve collaboration and save time and costs.
Communication between labs and clinics when sending impressions and appliances to be made can be time-consuming, so it’s beneficial for both parties to work on common platforms. Using the same software will improve the flow of communication and save time for the lab and clinic so they can become more efficient in their daily operations.
Technology within digital dentistry is changing quickly, so when a dental practice looks to make the switch, labs need to reassess the software and equipment they have to make sure they can continue communicating effectively.
As with any modern business, staying up to date with current technology and practices is important to remain competitive. Dentistry is no different.
Going digital allows you to gradually add new services to your practice and grow the indications and treatments you offer over time, with more dentists than ever looking to implement digital workflows into their practices, keeping analog methods can leave you behind competitors who can offer a smoother and more comfortable experience to patients.
Analog methods such as impression-taking can be time-consuming and leave room for human error, resulting in additional patient chair time and labor. On the other hand, digital dentistry improves efficiency in dental procedures and streamlines workflows. In dental practices, saving time on menial tasks results in shorter appointments improves throughput, and increased patient satisfaction.
For example, intraoral scanners make impression taking easier, reducing chair time and labor, and eliminating the costs of materials and the need to ship impressions to the dental lab. In addition, instant feedback and a reduction in manual errors such as voids, bubbles, or tears reduce the need for amends or duplicate impressions.
Additionally, chairside 3D printing allows dental practices to bring production in-house for simple applications such as surgical guides, splints, or temporary restorations, saving time and cost. Storing data digitally also reduces the need to keep physical models and records. With digital impressions, patient anatomy files can be saved with cloud platforms which require less room and allow dentists to find them quickly.
In dental labs, digital design and manufacturing help to increase technician productivity, reduce hands-on work and lead to more streamlined production, fewer remakes, and less time per unit.
In general, switching to a completely digital workflow allows dentists to digitize patient information, accurately manipulate digital information and transfer that information into a physical form to treat patients.
The introduction of digital solutions such as intraoral scanners, 3D printing, and cloud platforms provides new treatment and business opportunities for dentists with positive impacts on patients. These solutions offer both practices and patients speed, accuracy, and cost-effectiveness. These technologies have now become more user-friendly and affordable, allowing more dentists to take advantage of the benefits.
Here are some of the ways digital dentistry is transforming dental workflows:
Many dentists are now investing in the latest dental technologies to help perform tasks that are usually manual and time-consuming. These new ways of working provide easier, smarter ways of working, but if the new tools and technologies do not work together in synergy, they can be detrimental to workflows.
With separate pieces of technology and software that do not work together, dentists will have to juggle several systems and processes, which become more prone to errors — this separation results in poorer patient care and more time-consuming manual tasks.
Fully integrated workflows that connect seamlessly help to remove these barriers and allow dentists to become more profitable and improve patient care.
As digital technologies become more prominent in dentistry, there is a greater potential for patient data to be accessed by malicious sources. Databases that contain highly sensitive patient data, such as names and health history, can be highly valuable, so it’s essential to keep this data safe.
Traditionally, patient data is saved to a server-based system or backed up on a USB or external hard drive, which allows for several data breach opportunities. New cloud technology is less vulnerable to attack than traditional server-based systems, making the switch to digital dentistry more secure. Several layers of encryption and security protect cloud-based data. With a reduction in hardware, there are fewer opportunities to commit a HIPAA violation, and digital criminals have fewer points of attack.
Digital scans and designs provide more accurate appliances such as splints and braces and require much less post-processing than manual methods. Digital means allow labs to produce higher volumes, dentists can expand their in-house services, and patients receive more accurate treatment with fewer visits.
New capabilities in 3D printing allow dentists to provide complete restorations with same-day appointments that usually require several visits. For dentists, this provides the ability to see more patients and offer a better, faster treatment experience.
Digital dentistry reduces the room for human error with better consistency, accuracy, and precision at every workflow stage compared to manual methods. For example, impression-taking using manual processes can result in errors such as air bubbles, but these risks are minimized when intraoral scanners are implemented. In addition, the scans can be stored more easily without the risk of environmental factors affecting the model's accuracy. Storing the data digitally also makes replicability easier with no need for the patient to return to the practice.
This improved accuracy helps to facilitate patient diagnosis, optimize treatment workflows and improve treatment outcomes.
Previously, manual processes and methods required specialist training, so only a select number of staff or specialists in the dental practice could perform them. Digital tools require minimal training so tasks can be easily delegated to practice staff, providing dentists with more time to spend with patients and activities that grow the business.
Digital technology that connects seamlessly to cloud platforms allows dentists to access files anywhere, on multiple devices, and at any time. Traditionally, patient data is stored either physically or on a desktop computer, so dentists can only access it in one place. New advances mean that patient data can be automatically uploaded and accessed anywhere at any time. New technology also makes it much easier for dentists to share data with labs securely and accurately.
It also means that once a scan is completed using an intraoral scanner, it can be uploaded to the network and accessed using any device within the clinic. It’s then possible to move over to the 3D printer and access the same file on a different computer to feed it into the printer, which helps to make practices more versatile, and workflows run much more smoothly.
Advances in dental devices and technology have been driving the uptake of digital dentistry and making it easier and more cost-effective to implement than ever.
In this section, we will look at the technology driving changes in digital dentistry.
Intraoral scanners are handheld devices used in dentistry to create digital impressions of patients’ mouths. The data provided by an intraoral scanner can be shared digitally with dental labs to create a range of dental appliances, replacing traditional impression-taking, which requires a longer processing time and more resources and leaves room for human error.
It’s important to choose an intraoral scanner that is easy to use and intuitive to operate. Implementing an intraoral scanner into your dental practice will allow you to offer a range of treatments more efficiently with less time needed to train staff and easier delegation of tasks.
Intraoral scanners are used for the following applications:
Restorative dentistry - scans can be taken and feedback provided in real-time to identify errors, saving patients from revisiting the practice for further models. The more accurate, high quality, and secure data allow digital workflows in restorative dentistry to run more smoothly.
Implants - increased accuracy when using an intraoral scanner minimizes the risk of implants not fitting correctly and prevents patients from having to return for amends.
Sleep appliances - investing in an intraoral scanner allows dentists to expand treatments and services to increase revenue for their business.
If you’re looking to digitize existing workflows, Primescan from Dentsply Sirona provides a great starting point. It can be used as a standalone scanner to make impression-taking easier and more comfortable for patients. It can also be a starting point for digitizing the workflow and implementing other digital dentistry solutions such as 3D printing.
3D printing is an additive manufacturing process during which an object is processed by laying successive layers of material on top of each other until a finished product is formed. Learn more about 3D printing in dentistry in our guide: Changing your dental practice with 3D printing.
Increased demand for 3D printing within dentistry has led to considerable technological developments, making it much more accessible and affordable for dentists.
Dentsply Sirona’s Primeprint solution is designed to solve the key issues traditionally faced with 3D printing in dentistry and provide an end-to-end 3D printing solution, from file preparation to printing, washing, drying, and post-processing.
Dental platforms are introduced as software that dental companies have been rolling out to the markets lately and they all bring connectivity, data management, and services with the goal of making the hardware more versatile.
Cloud platforms are being implemented across a number of dental practices to provide additional connectivity, data management, and other services to help make workflows more efficient. The software platforms being implemented help to make hardware more versatile and effective, making dental practices able to provide more treatments and services. These cloud platforms can be integrated seamlessly into existing workflows, helping dentists to save on time and costs, as well as better connect them to labs.
DS Core is Dentsply Sirona’s cloud platform developed in collaboration with Google Cloud. It connects to dental practice’s hardware and brings several services closer to dentists so they can provide better treatments to patients. It is designed around the needs of dentists and modern dental practices focus on making dentists work more efficiently while improving the practice’s data security. It also provides efficiency by connecting, offering storage, simplifying patient file sharing, and seamlessly connect devices to provide efficiency when collaborating on patient treatment plans, transferring patient records, and managing files in practice.
DS Core unifies pieces of hardware used within a dental practice to allow dentists to access everything they need in one platform. It allows dentists to provide better, more accurate treatments and saves on time spent collating data from a number of sources in order to collaborate with labs or partners. In addition, DS Core monitors all pieces of hardware connected, allowing for better troubleshooting when potential problems occur.
The future of digital dentistry will lead to more streamlined workflows, improved communication between practices and labs, and improved patient experience. All these factors are critical to the ongoing success and growth of dental practices, which has led to an increase in the adoption of new technologies. Dentists who do not keep up or refuse change will more likely be left behind competitors as patients opt for a more comfortable experience that is faster and more accurate.
Please contact a Dentsply Sirona representative to learn more about taking the first steps into digital dentistry.