Computer with a patient's digitally rendered teeth

Digital dentistry is already in use at so many restorative dental practices and technologies are advancing rapidly as more dentists embrace digital workflow.

Instructors are teaching digital dentistry in preclinical curricula that has moved beyond merely introducing the intraoral scanner to explore advanced materials, manufacturing technologies aided by 3D imaging, and software algorithms to produce dental devices that perform complex procedures, research shows.

We are in an era of consumer-driven health care and tech-savvy patients. But before you hang up your loupes, there are colleagues you can turn to for help.

Joining or starting a study club is a great way in dental continuing education to learn from interdisciplinary peers virtually or in-person in a small-group learning environment to discuss lab processes and digital workflow.

As Arizona-based dental lab owner Derek Anderson explains in this Spear Digest Q&A, we're at the intersection of digital technologies, remote patient monitoring, big data analytics and personalized patient engagement strategies.

“In a dental study club, doctors, specialists, and lab technicians can ask detailed questions and receive comprehensive answers from those who have already seen the transformative power of digital dentistry in their own dental work environment,” said Anderson, who owns Sentry Dental Lab in Mesa, Arizona.

Here's what else he offered for a lab tech's perspective on digital dentistry:

What technology do you believe more doctors need to take advantage of?

“One of the most valuable technologies is intraoral scanning because it enables doctors to refine their workflow and increase profit margins in a time of reduced reimbursements. Other benefits include more accurate impressions, faster lab turn-around time and higher customer satisfaction.”

What is the biggest misconception in how restorative doctors can utilize a digital workflow with their lab?

“The most prevalent misconception is that incorporating a digital workflow will negatively disrupt doctors' processes. Many doctors don't invest in emerging technologies because they fear unsuccessful integration. But some labs, like Sentry, offer training and assistance to assure successful workflow implementation.”

What are the benefits for restorative doctors to explore digital workflow strategies in a setting like a dental study club that brings specialists, lab technicians, and general practitioners together?

“With effective collaboration, those involved in a dental study club share their different strengths to help eliminate any weaknesses in a specific workflow. For us at Sentry, we learn and take part in conversations with those who have specific experiences of improved efficiencies in digital dental work, while sharing our findings and processes to aid others.”

What measures does your lab take for consistent results and accurate data in the digital workflow process?

“We strive to provide exemplary results and consistent work so the doctors we work with can rely on us to take care of their patients' needs. Specialized technicians at our lab are assigned specific doctors and digital dental systems for uniformity. The digital workflow process allows to us be more precise in our work by preventing human error during the modeling process.

With accurate digital impressions, the work is almost guaranteed to be perfect since the dental work stays digital until it is in the capable hands of our ceramists. Another important part of the process is having doctors who have bought into digital workflow, have training, and have the desire to improve their processes.”

For doctors seeking to expand their clinical precision on implants, implant-supported bridges, and dentures, for example, what opportunities should they consider to help more patients and provide them with even more expedient treatment?

“Digital dentistry for crowns and bridges is great, but we hear consistently from our doctors about how incredible digital dental work is for implant and denture work. A digital workflow helps ease the impression-taking process, the accuracy of the impression, and the seating of the final restoration.

For example, with the inclusion of an intraoral scanner paired with Straumann's SynergyTM Workflow, users can design full contour temporary restorations for improved custom tissue forming in Straumann® CARES® Visual software based off a coDiagnostiX® surgical plan. The implant, when placed fully guided with a coDiagnostiX® guide, is placed predictably enough that the provisional can be seated at the time of surgery with minor adjustments to contacts and improved tissue management.

I truly believe intraoral scanners need to be utilized by all doctors. Far more than the current 30% of doctors currently using it need to experience this beneficial technology. Derek Anderson, owner of Sentry Dental Lab

What does it take for doctors to adjust comfortably to rapidly changing CAD/CAM technologies? Are there any specific technologies you feel more doctors should utilize?

“It takes a desire and a commitment to stay current with the developing technologies that are now readily accessible to all dentists and specialists. A commitment, along with a compliant, teachable staff, and a digital-friendly lab partner will make the seemingly overwhelming task of staying current not only manageable but exciting.

I truly believe intraoral scanners need to be utilized by all doctors. Far more than the current 30% of doctors currently using it need to experience this beneficial technology.”

What makes a great relationship between clinical practice and dental lab?

“Like in most relationships, communication is the most important interface between a clinical practice and a dental lab. The lab and office can work together as a team to improve the quality, service, and expectations of the patients.

In my experience, digital dental work facilitates great communication because it acts as a portal where information is effectively and accurately shared.”

With continuing education authorities like Spear and, what should interdisciplinary teams look for, especially specialists, as they seek CE coursework or curricula to expand the skill sets of their teams?

“In regard to finding specific coursework and curricula that will benefit dental teams, dental CE authorities are the best. Pursuing CE coursework that focuses on clear integration techniques to help incorporate a digital workflow will better link specialists, restorative doctors, and digital labs together for better communication and patient care.”

With dentist-lab relationships and the use of technology, what is crucial for doctors to tackle by the end of 2020 if they haven't already?

“Moving into the digital world and finding a digital-friendly lab that is fully compatible with new technologies is of the utmost importance for all dental practices.

Taking opportunities to increase their knowledge of how digital dentistry can increase office and staff productivity, as well as practice profitability. Change can be uncomfortable, but it can bring about substantial rewards and growth.

One system we recommend dentists utilize is Straumann's coDiagnostiX® guided surgery and intraoral scanning for more restorative accuracy which in turn leads to a better patient experience.

One response we hear from doctors after they adjust to digital dentistry, is they believe they are becoming better doctors. With the imaging available to them, they can examine their impressions more closely and fine-tune any needed adjustments, allowing them to deliver more accurate impressions that enable technicians to provide precise restorations.”

Note: SynergyTM, CARES®, and coDiagnostiX® are all registered trademarks of Straumann Holding AG.