Checking the aisles in Chicago

The recent ADA meeting in Chicago was both an educational and commercial cornucopia of new dentistry. Technology Day 3 was a success, bringing over 500 people into the millennium. The exhibit hall was a challenge for me, as I had hoped to report on everything related to technology. Since the booth numbers went from 100 to 6,000, it was quite a task. I do not want hate mail after my first column if I neglect to mention a particular product, as this report is a function of my stamina in Chicago.

Paul Feuerstein, DMD

The recent ADA meeting in Chicago was both an educational and commercial cornucopia of new dentistry. Technology Day 3 was a success, bringing over 500 people into the millennium. The exhibit hall was a challenge for me, as I had hoped to report on everything related to technology. Since the booth numbers went from 100 to 6,000, it was quite a task. I do not want hate mail after my first column if I neglect to mention a particular product, as this report is a function of my stamina in Chicago.

There are a few new and interesting products worth mentioning. Difoti and DiagnoDent are strangely named devices that will help dental professionals detect early caries and show their patients the value of early intervention. Difoti uses very high-intensity light to transilluminate a tooth and a small camera built into the handpiece to project the image onto a computer monitor. DiagnoDent uses a laser to read tooth densities and has a digital readout and an audible sound showing early lesions. The intraoral cameras, in tandem with these products, will help patients understand why treatment is necessary. Thanks to microdentistry with air abrasion, lasers, or conservative bur preparation and fine, new restorative products, patients will actually thank us for keeping more of their enamel intact!

Technology also has invaded crown and bridge. A couple of new computerized shade-matching units were shown by Shofu (ShadeEye-DX) and Cortex Machina (Shade Scan). These can give the laboratory precise recipes for ceramic coloring. Of course, the CEREC3 is an impressive piece of equipment for producing completed restorations at chairside.

In addition to the new products, I am happy to report that many existing products have undergone improvements. Most of the manufacturers I spoke with had implemented changes based on the feedback of their users and the scrupulous checking of their competitors. Digital-radiography sensors are now a bit more durable and feature improved software with increased resolution. There is still an issue of consistency of the image format. Although the images can be stored in a universal manner (.jpg or .gif, for example), each company prefers its own initial encryption to ensure the original is "stamped" and cannot be altered without being noted. This leads to some incompatibility and redundancy of software. Although the practice-management software can include the company`s own programs to read the images, the digital-radiography companies use special programs to utilize the unique storage formats.

There were also interesting differences among the sensors - thick, thin, round, square, and beveled. Most of the companies offer "dummy" sensors (no electronics) so you can see how they feel in the mouth and operate with film holders before investing in them. There were also a couple of nonwired (PSP) sensors (Denoptix and Digora), which were much closer in feel and use to traditional film. And, of course, the scanned radiographs (Tigerview and Apteryx XVa3) are a low-budget/high-tech solution.

Practice-management software has a new wrinkle. Two companies (PackOnline and Dentisoft) provide their systems on the Internet. The programs and data are not in the office. This allows the dentist to have a secure backup, instant upgrades, and less hardware. The industry word for this is ASP (Application Service Provider). With ASP, the costs of the office hardware are reduced and the practice-management software companies work with a monthly fee, as opposed to an outright purchase of the product. This has become more feasible with the advent of extremely fast and affordable Internet connections, such as DSL and cable, and is being done in other industries, most notably accounting. The current prominent practice-management companies are looking at this model as a possible future endeavor, but only one (Practiceworks) had a live demo at the meeting.

There were many other areas to explore, such as new digital intraoral cameras, digital "photo" cameras, imaging, Internet services, lasers, and two interesting cordless curing lights (Cool Blu and e.Light), neither of which have heat or fan due to use of LEDs.

In the upcoming months, I will detail many of these topics and other computer-related issues. I hope to keep you updated on the most current technology available and invite your comments and ideas at any time!

Dr. Paul Feuerstein installed one of dentistry?s first computers when he placed a system in his office in 1978, and he has been fascinated by the technology ever since. For more than 20 years, he has taught courses on technology throughout the country. He is a mainstay at technology sessions in New England, including annual appearances at the Yankee Dental Congress, and has been a part of the ADA?s Technology Day since its inception. A general practitioner in North Billerica, Mass., since 1973, Dr. Feuerstein maintains a Web site (www.computersindentistry.com) and can be reached by e-mail at drpaul@computersindentistry.com.

More in Practice