Beyond how each piece of dental technology performs on its own, imagine what an interlinked system can help you accomplish
Editor’s note: After spending the first part of his career working in an office he couldn’t customize
and getting a firsthand look at the world of DSOs, Dr. Daniel Bird went all-in on creating a scratch practice
in an up-and-coming section of Memphis. He brought the best tech all under his roof, made same-day dentistry the new normal, and serves as an example to all Townies that it’s never too late to bring bleeding-edge tech into the office.
Throughout our lives, things have been evolving and changing: Humans are always looking for ways to do things faster, easier and more cheaply. Over time, many different technologies have been invented and have changed how things are done in almost every industry in the world.
Dentistry is no exception and has been greatly affected by technology as well. With innovation comes skepticism, though. While some dentists are eager to adopt the newest technology, others are utterly uninterested in trying new things.
I began my career in dentistry in 1999, and have been watching the industry evolve for more than 20 years. At one point in time, the standard and commonplace tech we use in practice today was just emerging and was met with excitement or skepticism, or a mix of the two. Some technologies stayed, evolved and became well-adopted members of the industry’s family, so to speak. The rest still exist along the fringe, entering into select practices due to dental specialty or even doctor personality.
These latter technologies deserve discussion. Can they have a profound impact in the practice of a general dentist? Are they useful enough in their current state to make late adopters pull the trigger? Here’s a look at some of them and if they’re ready for the mainstream.
This aspect of technology has really been a game changer for many clinicians. Although it is not cheaper or quicker, it does allow us to be precise with planning implants, creating surgical guides and tracing root canal systems.
Adding this level of technology not only gives me access to more information but also creates confidence with patients, patients who enjoy the fact that we have the ability to see more and better analyze their condition.
As with any piece of technology, lasers won’t become commonplace unless they make what we’re already doing faster, cheaper and easier for clinician and patient.
Considering incorporating lasers into your practice? Examine what procedures you currently do and ask: “Can I do them better or faster, or can I do them in a way that is better for my patient?” If the answer is yes, then learn if that better way means bringing a laser into the operatory.
In my office, I use a diode laser and an Er:YAG laser. Both lasers are useful, and have different applications depending on the clinical situation. A diode laser is used for removing soft tissue; I use it to uncover healing abutments, to remove lesions from the tongue or lips, and to sterilize periodontal pockets.
Using a laser to cut tissue allows me to avoid sutures, scalpels and bleeding, and those things alone help to reduce
postoperative healing and sensitivity by several days.
The term “digital dentistry” is used with increased frequency every year. What benefit is digital dentistry, though? Twenty years ago, we could fix a broken tooth with a full-coverage crown. The process had been learned and retaught and perfected in dental schools for decades. Why fix what wasn’t broken?
Well, why did horse-drawn buggies get replaced by cars? Speed, ease of use and predictability are all things that come to mind. And this holds true with making crowns as well.
For patients, the technology allows us to avoid temporary crowns. That in itself saves time for both clinician and patient. It also allows us to remove a lot of the human element, and therefore human error. The technology also allows us to have a digital record of all pieces needed to make a crown.
Remakes are a breeze and you don’t need to see the patient prior to doing it. (I frequently remake a crown for someone needing a root canal, rather than drilling through their new crown). And digital scanning shows the clinician everything! Imagine the standard image at 25x its normal size.
Being able to see your work at that minute level makes you better. Getting everything done in one visit is better for your patient and your schedule! Some doctors will say that they and their patients don’t mind a second appointment, but if you gave each of them the choice to be done in one … they’d all take it.
For those of us who do root canals, this one piece of technology has been a true blessing. And if you are saying to yourself, “Well, I hate doing root canals” or “I send these out anyway,” there are still advantages to a digital X-ray system. The time saved from processing film is unbelievable.
It is also extremely useful for placing implants. I like to take X-rays throughout the entire implant placement surgery. Not having to stop and leave and go develop the film saves so much time and makes the procedure a much more seamless process.
Also, being able to manipulate the image and easily share it with other providers and insurances are huge reasons to consider making that change.
I’ve discussed a few pieces of individual technology that have allowed me to be more efficient, but what’s truly exciting is when the technology starts to work together. For example. I can use my CBCT and Cerec scanner and merge the information to make surgical guides. When incorporated with the right software, it can also create
orthodontic aligners. This saves significant money on lab fees. It makes aligner therapy quicker, more predictable and cheaper—without sacrificing quality.
The give and the take
Technology is expensive, and requires updating and maintenance. It also requires
an investment in time: Learning to use new technology isn’t always easy, and those additional hours spent learning to use it efficiently can intrude into your office and personal time.
Depending on where clinicians are in their careers, sometimes the investment doesn’t make sense. Newer dentists have different financial and time obligations; older dentists might not feel the need to invest the time or money that’s required.
Personally, learning how to do what I was already doing, but better and faster, has made a
huge difference in my personal job satisfaction. To me, that’s really what it’s all about: doing better for my patients. For me and my practice, incorporating new technologies has been just the thing to jump me into the new age of dentistry.
See even more of Dr. Bird’s office online!
We profiled Dr. Daniel Bird and his high-tech practice in an Office Visit feature last August:
To see the story and a slideshow of photos, head to dentaltown.com/bird.
Dr. Daniel Bird is a graduate
of the University of Tennessee College of Dentistry. After spending the first part of his career as an associate in the world of DSOs, Bird started a 4,000 square-foot practice in Memphis. His investment in technology shaped his new office and included an on-site digital lab, multiple same-day services, and a wide array of state-of-the-art tools that redefine what a general dentist can be.