When transitioning to digital dentistry, Dr. Edmond Suh says dental technology, such as CAD/CAM, can make your practice run more efficiently and profitably by allowing you to diagnose, treat, educate, and communicate better. It all comes down to making the most of your connections.
As more and more dentists warm to the idea of "going digital," it's important to understand that the advantages that come with buzzwords—"digital workflow," "seamless integration," "one-day dentistry"—alone won't make you a better clinician. However, when used properly by clinicians with excellent skills, digital technology can make your practice run more efficiently and, therefore, more profitably by allowing you to diagnose, treat, educate, and communicate better. It all comes down to making the most of your connections.
The dental industry has been increasing the pace of its adoption of digital technology—which started to gain traction in the front office in the '90s—when dentists began replacing their paper appointment books with electronic scheduling and then moved to electronic patient records. However, in the back office—i.e., the clinic—change came more slowly, with dentists adopting diagnosis and treatment innovations first with digital x-rays, then with digital impressions, next with cone beam computed tomography (CBCT), and now with complete CAD/CAM systems.
I began the transition to digital dentistry in earnest with my purchase of the E4D—now Planmeca-FIT CAD/CAM system nine years ago. Its impact on my practice was, in a word, transformational. Let me explain.
Just consider the chaos of a typical day. So much can and does go wrong that can completely throw off your carefully planned schedule and hinder productivity. For example, if a patient needs to be brought back into the office because of a problem with a traditional impression, it can be costly and inconvenient for both the patient and doctor. This is similarly the case when a restoration doesn't fit properly.
Using the system components of my CAD/CAM system—the scanner to capture the oral environment, a laptop computer with design and scanning software, and a mill to fabricate those restorations—I can take digital impressions that won't tear or warp. I can also quickly fabricate a new restoration to replace one that doesn't fit properly in a matter of a couple of hours.
With this system, I can perform all aspects of digital dentistry. Planmeca's Romexis software handles the back office with powerful features that cover pretty much everything I, as a restorative dentist, would do from a digital perspective: planning an implant, making a surgical guide, taking a digital impression and sending it to the lab, or designing it in the office and sending it to the mill to be fabricated immediately. Further, the software supports an ideal digital treatment workflow. The open STL file format enables seamless integration and collaboration with other systems, as well as the ability to export case files to any third party for review or completion.
Initially, the CAD/CAM system improved workflow from a clinical standpoint right away, but there was still a disconnect between the front and back offices. That's why the most powerful integration for me is a platform that integrates everything and maximizes connectivity. Now that my clinic management software (Romexis Clinic, Planmeca) connects with my practice management software (Dentrix), everything we do in the back is linked up to the patient's record in the front via seamless technology. This means that everything my patients are involved with in my practice—from hygiene to single-unit posterior dentistry to implant planning to restoring that implant—is linked and works together.
Having a truly seamless workflow with everything under one umbrella is incredibly powerful because it makes everything accessible to everyone. In addition to the front and back offices, the lab and other partners can be connected as well. Everyone is on the same page. If a patient has questions or wants to see something, someone at the front desk has the ability to provide information that supports the recommended treatment. The front desk can also easily send digital impressions to the lab or requested information to a specialist.
And it just keeps getting better, which is a good thing in this digital world where busy patients with smartphones who are armed with information from the internet expect more of their dentists, just as their employers and families expect more of them. A big advantage of covering the back office via an integrated software is the ability to view and monitor all dental units, x-ray devices, and the milling unit operation. After scanning, designing a restoration, and sending it to the mill, I can check the status of that restoration to know where it is in the process and when it will be completed. The software also does diagnostics on the mill itself to ensure that it's running correctly.
Now my entire practice is interconnected. From the front desk to the dental chair, it is possible to see what's happening with the patient, patient record, and equipment from anywhere in the practice from a single location or multiple locations.
Those concerned about making the investment in time and money should consider the impact CAD/CAM has had on my practice. I now have more options on my menu of services available for case acceptance. I can offer restorations in a single visit to patients who would rather be almost anywhere than in the dental office. Thanks to CBCT, I can diagnose airway issues and place implants with a highly accurate picture of the area. And because the technology is so good, even new team members who are new to digital can, with minimal training, handle more than 90% of the digital workflow. This is a big deal, because it empowers the staff to do more and makes my practice run more efficiently and profitably in the end. Most importantly, patients see it and like it. And we all know that satisfied patients drive the practice.
In short, Planmeca technology has enabled me and my staff to do more for our patients, who expect more these days thanks to their own adoption of technology, including the ability to learn what their dentists can do.
Disclosure: Dr. Suh serves on the board of Contemporary Product Solutions and is a key opinion leader for various dental manufacturers, including Planmeca.
Edmond Suh, DDS, FAGD, maintains a private practice, Supremia Dentistry, in Wake Forest, North Carolina. He lectures nationally on topics from streamlining practice management to esthetic principles and simplification of complex adhesive protocols. He is acting as a course director for the Las Vegas Institute for Dental Learning and is codirector of 5th Gear Seminars (thefifthgear.com) seminars.