Digital dentistry has been widely tipped to completely transform the dental industry. The promises are ambitious. From improving patient outcomes and driving more personalised dental services, to boosting revenue, improving the bottom line of your dental practice and building a better relationship with your dental laboratory, going digital has been presented as the golden ticket for dental practices facing the challenges of the 21st century.
The understanding around digital dentistry — and how it applies to the day-to-day business of running a busy dental services practice — is far less advanced. Yet even the most digital-adverse dental practitioners may already be on the digital train.
“Most dental services providers in Australia are already on a digital journey,” says Richard Salter, Managing Director at full service dental laboratory Avant Dental. “Every physical impression that comes into our dental lab is digitised and converted into a 3D model ready for manufacture on our state-of-the-art computer aided manufacturing (CAM) systems.”
At Avant Dental, we have invested heavily in digital dentistry. As a full service Australian dental lab, we have been servicing dental services providers across Australia for more than 40 years. Today, we are at the forefront of a new generation of digital dentistry for business-minded dentists who see technology as a competitive advantage.
“We’ve invested so you don’t have to,” says Salter. “While we certainly still work with dentists who use traditional physical impressions, practices that embrace new digital technology stand to benefit significantly.”
Salter is referring to intra-oral scanning, and the barriers to getting started are surprisingly low.
“Dentists just need an intra-oral scanner and a relationship with a good full service dental lab,” explains Ian Feigen, General Manager and Technical Advisor at Avant Dental.
“At Avant, for example, we can provide independent advice on the best intra-oral scanner to purchase for your needs. We can also organise a trial of a scanner so that you can test drive the technology and equipment before investing, and offer live virtual support to help get you comfortable using it.”
There are several principal benefits of intra-oral scanning. Defective scans can be redone while the patient is still in the chair, and digital impressions may be more accurate than conventional impressions. Defects in tooth preparation can be identified, and face scans can be included to optimise the aesthetics of anterior restorations.
Kylie Harris, Operations Manager at Avant Dental, believes these benefits can significantly improve the patient experience your dental practice is delivering.
“For starters, your patients don’t have to sit through uncomfortable physical impressions, and don’t need to be called back for a second appointment if the physical impression contains defects. Dental practices that embrace intra-oral scanning also no longer have to store dental models, and the dentist can show patients the digital image to demonstrate evidence of the issue they’ve identified.”
Harris adds that after a little training, dental nurses can scan the patient during their initial visit to set a baseline for future treatments.
“This can be done while the dentist is treating another patient, and future scans can be overlaid to give the patient a clear picture of any new or further deterioration caused by teeth grinding or caries for example.”
Feigen also points out that digital intra-oral scanning largely removes the human error element of taking physical impressions, which significantly reduces remake rates and gives dentists access to modern materials purpose-designed for oral scanners such as Avant’s Aesthetic Zirconia.
This all adds up to better quality patient outcomes, delivered faster and without time-consuming human and environmental errors associated with traditional impressions.
However, Salter warns dental services providers not to fall for claims that adopting intra-oral digital scanning means immediate financial benefits. He says, as with any new technology, there is a learning curve and the savings will come from clinical time efficiency.
“Intra-oral scanning has the potential to improve the overall long-term profitability of your practice as patients begin to experience better treatment outcomes and you become known as a high-quality operator.”
Salter also wants dentists to know that you don’t have to start out on your digital journey alone.
“Avant has been on our digital journey for well over a decade. We have developed the expertise our clients can call on to deliver faster, better and more accurate patient outcomes now and into the future.”
Dr Lawerence Neville, Owner and Principal Dentist at Sydney-based Spa Dental, is seeing the benefits of digital dentistry at his busy CBD practice. He says digital scanners have helped to improve the patient experience in a number of ways.
“Digital scanning is not as technique sensitive as analogue impressions, which means my dental assistants can carry out the scanning. This has created a more team-based approach to the patient experience. Patients get a lot more interaction with dental assistants and other team members, which tends to relax patients and put them at ease before they see the dentist.”
Dr Neville also says digital scanning has improved how he communicates with patients, which he believes contributes to increasing the treatment acceptance rate.
“Describing a problem to the patient can be quite difficult,” he says. “But with a scanner it’s much easier because a picture speaks a thousand words. You can show the patient what’s going on and they become more engaged, and are much more likely to go ahead with treatment.”
Digital scanning has also improved accuracy and workflow timelines at Spa Dental. “Digital is much more accurate, everything fits the first time, and you can communicate directly with your dental laboratory technician. And it’s definitely faster than impressions. Most dental labs we work with have a slightly faster turn-around for digital because they are not waiting half a day for impressions to arrive.”
And when it comes to the bottom line, digital scanners come up trumps too. Dr Neville says digital scanning has supported him to add a new revenue stream to the business, and cuts costs associated with physical consumables.
“With clear teeth straightening aligners, for example, if I had to do the scans every time the patient came in, it wouldn’t be profitable. But because I can get the team to do it, it becomes more profitable for me. The fact that I can be in another room doing something else is a massive benefit. And digital scanner payments per month on a finance plan still work out way cheaper than the analogue products you consume to make impressions.”
Dr Neville is also using other digital technologies to improve workflows and add new revenue streams across the business. “Tools like 3D smile design are a game-changer for treatment planning, and we’re also doing low-radiation digital X-rays. The practice becomes more of a one-stop-shop. Digital tools help you see and find things early so you can be more accurate with your diagnosis, planning and treatments.”
So how do you make the leap to digital? Belinda Muggleton, Co-founder and Director of Dental Axess, says investing in a digital intra-oral scanner is a good first step. Her company assists dental services providers with digital implementations, and she says that most digital scanners on the market are up to the job.
The more important thing for dentists to consider, she explains, is identifying an overall digital strategy that is linked to the business needs of the practice.
“Our first step is to have a meaningful discussion with the dentist to find out how digital technology can benefit their practice, and how it can be used to improve case acceptance, improve your relationship with your dental lab, and ultimately, improve the patient experience.”
Dental Axess then advises on the right digital scanner for the practice, and can organise a product demonstration.
“We may do a demo so they can touch and feel the scanner. If they decide to go ahead, then there’s ongoing training and support involved,” she says. “The scanner is where it all starts, so it’s really about getting a good understanding of the business so we can identify where the clinician wants to take their digital journey.”
While setting up a digital scanner is simple in most cases, there are a few common pitfalls to keep in mind when selecting a scanner. Particularly important is selecting a digital scanner with software that is compatible with your full service dental laboratory.
“We assist in establishing dental workflows for the dental industry, so it’s important for us to represent a number of different solutions on the market according to the needs of the customer,” she says. There are plenty of box movers out there, and we don’t want to see dentists spending a lot of money on a piece of equipment that just sits in the corner. You need to work with someone who can support you on the journey.
“For example, the relationship with the dental lab is absolutely critical, so working closely with the labs is key because they have a lot of great knowledge around digital. You need to make sure your dental laboratory can work with your digital scanner software, so reaching out to your dental lab is critical early in the process.”
Digital transformation, however, is about more than your choice of scanner hardware. The software platform your scanner runs on is potentially more important to establishing good workflows that will drive the success of your digital transformation.
For example, Carestream Dental runs on a software platform called CS Imaging. “This is your hub,” says Nicole Lawson, Product Manager CAD/CAM at Carestream Dental. “If you have other Carestream Dental products, like a CBCT machine for example, all your data is consolidated in one hub. And that’s linked to the dental laboratory of your choice through CS Connect, which is our portal for sending intra-oral scans and CBCT data to your dental lab. It’s basically one click to upload and send the patient scan to your dental lab of choice.”
Lawson says Carestream Dental will also handle the setup, and will help to support your ongoing digital transformation. “We’d set up the software on all your viable PCs and integrate it so it’s all on one big hub. That means you can access and send scans from reception, for example.”
“Complete analogue to digital conversions are a change of practice, and that jump can be daunting. In that transition, our biggest priorities are education and pairing dentists with skilled dental labs. We’ll hold your hand the whole way through.”
Another option is iTero’s cloud-based software platform. It is particularly attractive for dental businesses with multiple practices, or dentists who enjoy the flexibility of assessing scans remotely.
“Prior to scanner delivery, we send a link with your username and password to log into myitero.com,” says Adam Hughes from iTero. “ So if you’re scanning in Tamworth, your Port Macquarie practice can log in and see it. Or a dental assistant can scan a patient, and a dentist can review the scan from their smartphone or tablet from anywhere with an internet connection.”
Compatibility with your dental lab should not be an issue with iTero. “More than 3,000 dental labs have the iTero software,” says Hughes. “You can link the scanner to the dental laboratory, then select the dental lab from the drop-down menu to send.”
Workflow is also simple, fast and efficient. “You pick a case type from multiple options, then a full arch comes up and you click the tooth you’re going to work on. Then you choose the restorative function, select the material, and then scan the arch as normal. You review the scan in 3D to make sure you have captured enough data, then you press send, and like an email it goes directly to the dental laboratory. If there’s something wrong with the scan, the dental lab can reject it. It goes back to the dentist’s scanner and they can continue where they left off.”
Carestream Dental currently offers a choice of two digital scanners, the CS3600 and the CS3700. The CS3600 is a good entry-level scanner, and CS3700 is a step up with about a 20 per cent faster capture rate. Both now feature open workflow. That means you no longer have to create a new workflow when in-mouth investigations reveal a need to change treatments. Common scans can now be adjusted with no need to exit and define a new workflow.
The iTero Element 5D has been designed with usability at front of mind with plug-and-play capability The touch screen interface is very simple, and in-person setup assistance is available if required. Or you can set it up yourself by linking it to your wifi and connecting to the myitero.com platform.
Good core scanning, powerful artificial intelligence that removes soft tissue interference, caries detection, and the smart tips feature make the 3Shape Trios 4 a winning digital scanner. The scanner’s CAD software covers a large range of clinical indications, and the real colours and shade measurement feature will take your digital scanning to the next level. The scanner’s integrated fluorescence technology makes tooth decay detection easier than ever, and enables you to compare the patient’s currency scan with past scans.
The Medit i500 is an excellent mid-market intra-oral scanner that delivers powerful performance for its price tag. Scanning speed is very fast, and largely compensates for the slightly slower data capture due to the smaller scanner head. You’ll need to follow the recommended scanning strategy to get the best results, but it’s certainly a quality tier-one scanner and offers excellent value for money.
While the Dentsply-Sirona Primescan is a larger scanner, the generous scanner head and depth of field speeds up single-pass data capture. But it’s the Primescan’s artificial intelligence (AI) capability that is the real show-stopper. It uses AI to correct mistakes and achieve a more accurate overall outcome. The Primescan is a little more pricey than some of its lower-budget competitors, but you get what you pay for in superior speed, accuracy and efficiency.
Avant Dental is a full service Australian dental lab. Want to find out more about how we can support you on your digital journey?
Please email [email protected] or phone 1800 287 336.