By Ron Perry, DMD, MS
In a previous article published in Dental Economics, I wrote about the real costs of impression taking -- about $38,000 annually if we consider the value of our time as well as our impressioning materials. That breaks down to about $101 per impression, with $7 of that cost being materials and $94 being time. The point of that article was to establish that costs in time are actually the most expensive part of impression taking, and that, therefore, retakes are actually much more expensive than we might think if we only consider material costs. With that in mind, I urged dentists to ensure they utilized quality materials and sound techniques to maximize their impression-taking dollars.
To assist in that goal, manufacturers are constantly working to develop materials that deliver more benefits and more predictability in impression taking. New impression materials are introduced on a regular basis that offer improved properties and more desirable working and setting times in order to enable dentists to capture accurate impressions while helping improve patient comfort and reducing the risk of retakes. For example, one recently introduced material, 3M™ ESPE™ Imprint™ 4 VPS Impression Material, cuts setting time to 75 seconds, vs. setting times of approximately four to five minutes for many other VPS materials. This material has a self-warming feature in which the heat of the patient's mouth sets off a chemical reaction that causes the material to begin setting, which speeds up the setting time without reducing working time.
This translates directly into some very important benefits. Using my previous estimate of $5.21 as the value of one minute in a typical dental practice, we can figure that a 75-second setting time "costs" the practice approximately $6.51, vs. $20.84 for four minutes and $26.05 for five minutes. If a practice cuts setting time from five minutes to 75 seconds for just half of the impressions taken each year, it would result in time savings equivalent to $3,751 -- nothing to scoff at.
Of course, saving chairtime is not the only thing that dentists should consider when reviewing a new impression material. Accuracy is obviously very important, so dentists should examine qualities such as hydrophilicity and resistance to distortion when making material selections. In my experience, this new material exhibits outstanding hydrophilicity in its unset state, resulting in impressions with more precise details. We must also consider that even the very best material cannot necessarily compensate for poor technique. It's not unusual for dentists to blame a material or the lab technician for retakes or remakes, when the issue is often something such as improper application of the material or poor tissue management. A lab technician often does whatever he or she can to "make it work" with a subpar impression, but not every one can be redeemed.
Many dentists reach a point with impression taking where they feel comfortable enough with their materials and techniques to simply stick with them. While predictability and reliability are qualities for which we strive, we also shouldn't overlook the potential benefits of new materials, particularly if these benefits save money or increase patient comfort. New-generation impression materials have the ability to do both -- saving costly chairtime and minimizing the most uncomfortable step for patients. By improving the patient experience and conserving your valuable time, a new impression material can provide a significant boost to your practice.
* Calculations based on 192 impressions taken with a savings in time equivalent to $19.54 per impression.
RONALD D. PERRY, DMD, MS, received his DMD from Boston University Goldman School of Dental Medicine in 1988 and graduated with his MS in dental research from Tufts University in 1999. Dr. Perry owns a private practice, Meridian Dental Associates, in South Weymouth, Mass. He can be reached by email at [email protected].
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