New technology redefines role

Most dentists who went through dental school in the 1980s and 1990s were reminded about the "golden age" of dentistry, which occurred back in the 1960s and 1970s.

Lorne Lavine, DMD

Most dentists who went through dental school in the 1980s and 1990s were reminded about the "golden age" of dentistry, which occurred back in the 1960s and 1970s. While there is no doubt that this era was a time of prosperity for dental practices, the modern dental practice has evolved significantly from that time. Many dentists were concentrating on restorative dentistry and cosmetics were becoming a reality. However, dentists today have developed other skills that are necessary to run a successful office. The push towards technology in the dental practice has redefined dentists' roles. Some of the new roles in today's dental practice include:

Systems integrator

Many different components form the hi-tech dental practice. These include computers, networks, practice-management software, image-management software, digital cameras, intraoral cameras, digital radiography, scanners, and printers. In almost every case, dentists are adding these components in stages. It requires a significant investment in time to find the parts that will all work together. While some dentists will work with consultants and integrators to assist in this process, the final responsibility still lies with the dentist to find compatible systems. A mistake can be very costly — dentists can spend $40,000 to $50,000 to upgrade their offices, only to discover that certain software programs don't work properly together.

"Community" service activist

As the Internet becomes part of our everyday lives, we are beginning to realize the advantages of online communications with our colleagues. Numerous online meeting places are available to dentists that allow them to share information with colleagues and referring offices. These forums serve many purposes. First and foremost, they allow for an exchange of information between dentists. If a dentist is considering a switch to a new impression material or composite, he or she can post a question on a board asking for opinions, and often get dozens of replies within 24 hours. Dentists can easily post digital images, such as X-rays and photos, and ask their colleagues for assistance in diagnosis and treatment-planning. However, many of these boards are frequented by product sales reps and, unfortunately, some do not identify themselves as such. Be cautious about any information you receive and look for additional opinions and comments.

Web site author

Most dentists understand the advantages of having a Web site. A Web site can act as the initial contact for a new patient who is looking for a dentist. Practices with Web sites are often considered to be more progressive and up-to-date. Some sites can allow for a fair amount of patient interaction, such as checking on the status of insurance payments, viewing their next appointment, requesting new appointments, and receiving directions to the office. Some offices post payment policies.

While there are companies that will do most of the design work for you, dentists still should be responsible for writing the "copy" — the words that will be used in different sections of the site. Most people are savvy enough to realize when a site has a canned look and isn't customized for a particular office. To get some ideas on how to properly design a Web site, search Yahoo (yahoo.com) or Google (groups.google.com). It won't take long to see what looks appealing and what does not.

The days of dentists confining themselves to their operatories and worrying only about crown preps and margins are fast disappearing. To be competitive, you need to incorporate modern technology to separate your practice from the dentist down the street. By investing in the proper equipment and training, you will be well-positioned to keep up with new technologies as they appear in the next few years.

Lorne Lavine, DMD, practiced periodontics and implant dentistry for more than 10 years. He is an A+ Certified Computer Repair Technician, as well as Network+ Certified. He is the president of Dental Technology Consultants, a company that assists dentists in all phases of technology integration in the dental practice. He can be contacted by email at drlavine@thedigitaldentist.com or by phone at (866) 204-3398. Visit his Web site at www.thedigitaldentist.com.

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