Gary Kaye, DDS, FAGD
I am often asked whether or not I believe that the addition of digital dentistry to a practice can make you a better dentist. Unequivocally, I believe that the answer is yes. Now, that does not mean that digital dentistry will replace every process in the office, or that implementing it will immediately change the treatment of patients or automatically improve our level of care.
Like anything in dentistry, there is a learning curve. It takes a certain level of commitment and preparation in order to take proper advantage of such leaps in technology. But, if the correct mind-set is paired with the right advancements, there is little doubt that it makes us better in our profession.
It is very important that the principles of dentistry are considered in order to get the maximum benefit from digital dentistry. We arrive at a correct diagnosis and communicate that diagnosis to our patients. Thus, our patients understand the implications to their oral and systemic health. Furthermore, it gives us the ability to perform the treatment efficiently, cost-effectively, and to the highest standards. When it comes to diagnosis, there is an array of digital modalities starting with digital records, radiographs (both 2-D and 3-D), high-definition intraoral cameras, caries detectors, cancer screening devices, and digital occlusal analyzers that, when applied correctly, greatly improve our diagnostic capability. As for direct interaction with our patients, we now have tools that improve our ability to properly communicate conditions, treatment options, and outcomes. It is, of course, incumbent on us to implement these tools. Many can be delegated to a team member such as an assistant or hygienist.
When it comes to treatment, digital dentistry gives us the option for digital impressions and chairside CAD/CAM milling. This can deliver restorations with the benefit of complete, step-by-step control. We have immediate access to emergence profiles, marginal ridge heights, and precise occlusal stops. In addition, we can send the virtual impressions directly to the laboratory and have unprecedented two-way communication with our lab technician colleagues. This allows us to deliver a better and more consistent restoration, which, among the other benefits of digital dentistry, makes us better dentists.
How does digital dentistry improve patient treatment outcomes at lower costs?
Better outcomes at lower costs is a hot topic in medical care, and as the dental profession moves toward the model of being physicians of the oral cavity and masticatory system, the subject of treatment outcomes at lower costs will be crucial. The links between oral and systemic health continue to emerge and, as a result, we as dentists become more integrated into the public scope of overall health. It is going to be imperative that we be able to deliver better outcomes at lower costs if we are going to adapt to the rising importance of our branch of medicine.
In practice, we have been delivering this model of dentistry for quite some time. We focus on both disease control and eradication of caries with fluoride, as well as periodontal disease, through communication and patient compliance. Improvements in dental materials and techniques give rise to longer-lasting and better-functioning restorations. In line with the goal of producing long-term benefits to our patients, reducing overall caries gives rise to better patient outcomes and lower long-term costs, namely fewer restorations over time.
Digital dentistry fits right in with these principles. We have found that, through improved and more accurate diagnoses using digital modalities, as well as our enhanced ability to communicate, we have better engagement with our patients. The more engaged patients are, the more likely they are to take ownership of their care. This, in turn, leads to better compliance. Digital impressions, computer-aided design, and milling CAD/CAM improve the consistency and quality of restorations, which should lead to longer-lasting-and therefore improved-quality at lower costs. Lastly, our computerized practice management systems allow us to better track outcomes, further enhancing the use of digital dentistry in the modern practice.