Industry Insights: Technological Growth by Tija Hunter

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Dentaltown Magazine

These 5 innovations help boost productivity and profitability

by Tija Hunter


Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door; introduce products and technology that save time and solve problems for dentists, and they’ll pound on that door until those items are stocked in their operatories.

Today, several innovative items not only facilitate clinical treatment and procedures but also help improve the practice’s profit margins—a welcome development in an era when dentists are facing rising operational and staff costs as insurance companies lock arms in a fight to avoid increasing pay schedules for procedures.

Tija Hunter, director of the Dental Careers Institute, explains that while it’s important to consider the practice as a whole when determining profit margins, it would be a mistake to not also examine its technology and materials as they relate to modern standards. Finding the right products in today’s materials market—innovative time-saving-products, therefore innovative cost-saving products—is critical to the bottom line, Hunter says. Control of these products through maintaining inventories and the like is also critical, she adds. Dentists who do both will be better positioned to fend off the aforementioned assaults on profit margins.

Hunter—a certified dental assistant and expanded-function dental auxiliary, a certified dental specialist in OSHA, and a master of the American Dental Assistants Association—discusses some of today’s most promising and popular technologies and how they can best be put to use in practices to boost profit margins.

Bulk-fill materials
Bulk-fill materials have helped dentists perform restorations and crown buildups in less time, resulting in fewer patient-hours needed to complete a procedure. The development of new materials is focused on better performance over the long term, as well as a good experience for clinicians using the material. The generic concept of a filling has been around since the days of G.V. Black, but the materials available to fill a prep are changing all the time. Bulk-fill materials are a relatively new category of composite that can be placed in a larger increment with good clinical results, which has a direct impact on the time needed for placement.

“I truly believe that bulk fills aren’t an ‘option’ anymore—they’re a necessity,” Hunter says. “Being able to cure 5mm-plus down, that’s a time-saving factor. Plus, these bulk-fill 5mm composites cure in seconds. Fifteen years ago—even 10 years ago—we’d have thought, ‘What?! That can’t happen.’ But these products really have changed the way we look at dentistry and our profit margins.

“I don’t know too many practices that would give up their bulk fills. I know we certainly wouldn’t give up ours if you tried to take them away from us! I think they’re something every practice has come to rely on.”

Intraoral scanners
Intraoral scanners are time-efficient and simplify clinical procedures for dentists, virtually eliminating the need for impression material and allowing for better communication with dental technicians and patients. Plus, the simplicity of the technology that scanners utilize can allow dental assistants to complete the impression process, freeing up dentists to see other patients and perform more value-driven dentistry procedures.

“It always boggles my mind that some practices refuse to embrace this technology. I just don’t understand that,” Hunter says. “The cost savings in impression materials and lab fees, combined with not having to bring the patient back a second time thereby saving chair time, are substantial.

“I think some practices simply look at ‘X amount of dollars a month’ and dwell on the fact that scanners like these cost thousands of dollars. That’s true, but think about what you gain in time, savings and accuracy! And it’s not only that—it’s also having better control over the outcome of your crowns and your prosthetics. Having that control is very appealing to a lot of doctors.”

Another point to consider, Hunter says, is one that nicely complements the cost-effectiveness of intraoral scanners: Patients want technology. They want the latest and the greatest. They carry it in their hands, they drive it and they want it in their homes, so why would they not expect it from their dentist?

Dental lasers
Since their introduction to dentistry in the early 1960s, lasers have proven to be effective tools in facilitating dental procedures, and specific laser technologies have now become essential components of contemporary dental practice. Soft-tissue laser treatments have enabled dentists to perform procedures such as gingivectomy with greater accuracy and improved healing times, while hard-tissue lasers can expedite cavity preps, often without the need for anesthesia. One laser, Convergent Dental’s Solea, works with both hard and soft tissue.

“Lasers save money by offering better patient care,” Hunter says. “With a soft-tissue laser, there’s little to no bleeding, and healing is much better, which usually means fewer trips back to the dentist, saving chair time.

“Take a frenectomy, for instance: It used to be a much longer procedure, with a lot of bleeding and the need for sutures; healing time was about three weeks; and the patient may have had to return for suture removal. Now, with the advent of lasers, it’s a simple procedure that is done in about five minutes with no sutures; healing takes a few days; and the patient experiences no pain. It’s a win for everyone!

“Another example is perio. Lasers can be used to reduce infected tissue in a periodontal pocket, and I believe the healing is better and faster. The patient experiences less pain and needs less chair time … and with these reduced chair times, that’s where the savings are.”

CAD/CAM technology
For more than 30 years, CAD/CAM has been synonymous with the creation of restorations in a single visit. Practices that use this technology often can reduce costs significantly, compared with exclusively using a lab, by reducing the lab fee per unit. To further assess the profit potential of single-visit dentistry, a patient survey conducted by Exevia GmbH in November 2015 determined that 85% of patients would prefer single-visit dentistry compared with traditional treatment.

“The technology that brought us CEREC and CAD/CAM has turned our entire clinical world upside down, in a good way. It just blows everything else away,” Hunter says. “I’m a Cerec user, and in our office 10 years ago, we went from an $8,000-a-month lab bill to one that was less than $1,000 a month.

“And to the practices that contend that bringing a patient back a second time is no big deal? Yes, it is, because that’s chair time that you get zero dollars for. So when your chair is producing zero dollars for that hour or half-hour, how many times a day are you doing that? And let’s talk about how many patients never come back for their crowns. How many are walking around with temporaries they’ve had for years?”

Omnichroma composite from Tokuyama
While most dental material improvements have helped dentists improve profit margins here and there, universal composites specifically have had slower advancements and only a minor impact on saving money … until now, with the introduction of Omnichroma, a single-shade, universal composite. Simplifying the practice workday with its capabilities, it features dentistry’s first formula designed to match almost any smile with a single shade of composite. Its spherical fillers generate red-to-yellow structural color as ambient light passes through the material, producing the effects of structural color to combine with the reflected color of the patient’s surrounding dentition. It’s capable of matching any shade, from A1 to D4 and beyond.

“I think Omnichroma is an amazing material, and I don’t know why anybody would not be using it,” Hunter says. “Talk about game changers! CAD/CAM was a game changer for sure, and so is Omnichroma. It’s a beautiful composite and it can totally relieve you of stress, give you that one-and-done feeling, and help you move your patients along faster. It will alleviate what I consider to be a dentist’s two most pressing concerns: time and worry.

“We use composites in our office every day, much more than we do crowns, so Omnichroma will be a true time-saver—no shade guide to constantly reference, and no dealing with the dilemma of you thinking of one shade and your doctor thinking of another. And let’s talk about having all those shades of composite lying around because you may have a patient come in with a shade D2 or C3. If you do have those shades in inventory, will they be expired? For me, not having to carry a costly and extensive shade inventory that’s taking up space in our operatories is truly precious.”

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