Absolutely free

Jan. 1, 2002

by Paul Feuerstein, DMD

I went to the ADA meeting in Kansas City with the goal of increasing my product knowledge for this column. I was intrigued by some of the "high-ticket" items such as the CEREC 3 and lasers. What really opened my eyes, however, is that these devices are actually free! At least, that was the impression I got after speaking to several marketing representatives.

I first explored the CEREC 3. This device gives dentists a valid alternative to lab-processed ceramic and composite restorations, including full crowns. The turnoff, apparently, is its high cost. However, according to Sirona, a dentist who performs at least five restorations per month will cover the lease payment, plus yield a small profit. These figures are based on the dentist's total fee, less expenses, and do not include lab fees, impression costs, temporaries, or a second visit. Sirona further states that if an office does 30 restorations per month, the yield can be as much as $100,000 per year in additional profit.

Although this sounds simple, you must realize that the machine alone won't change your practice. According to Dr. Charles Samaras, director of practice management at Tufts University and a CEREC user, "You don't buy a CEREC to create a ceramic practice. You have to make that transition before it arrives." He goes on to explain that you and your staff must believe that indirect restorations are the best solution for patients, even if not covered by insurance. Thus, you can get your "free" CEREC 3 — as long as you are willing to use it and treatment plan accordingly.

My next adventure was in the laser kingdom. Soft-tissue lasers come in a vast array; some have both hard-and-soft tissue capabilities. Many units are marketed primarily as perio treatment instruments, but most offer multiple applications, including gingival recontouring, frenectomies, fibroma removal, operculectomies, and even treatment of apthous ulcers. Most of these procedures can be done quickly without the need for local anesthesia. Dr. John Graeber, of East Hanover, NJ. states that this means procedures can be done at recall appointments or "piggy backed" into other treatment visits. Practitioners can increase a visit's production by over $100. Just a few of these procedures per month can increase income by as much as $3,000 — signifcantly more than the lease payment.

The big crowds were, of course, at the hard-tissue laser demonstrations. These units are not really "free" in the same sense as the CEREC or soft-tissue lasers; however, soft-tissue capabilities are incorporated, which confers some of the "pays-for-itself" features. What's most impressive about hard-tissue laser units is their marketing capabilities. New patients will flock to offices that are "drill-less" and that perform dentistry without the need for anesthesia. This "wow" factor will generate new patients and consequently increase production. Eliminating the need for local anesthesia means dentists can do multiple quadrants at the same visit and dramatically increase production.

There is an overused phrase — "paradigm shift" — that I am going to use. For these products to be truly "free," dentists must rethink their practice philosophy and look to the future of the profession. Some practitioners have a constant urge to have the latest technology, only to push an expensive purchase into a corner to collect cobwebs. Again, dentists must be ready philosophically before purchasing these units. Once acquired, this state-of-the-art equipment will have myriad applications.

If you want to know more about the return on investment and the "free" cost of the products, contact the manufacturers for detailed charts and figures. They not only include the issues I raise here, but add all sorts of accounting figures, tax credits, etc., that further reduce the costs and increase the profits.

As an aside, the title of this column is also the title of an old favorite album of mine — if you know that one, drop me a note. I'll see you in January at the Yankee Dental meeting in Boston.

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 email at [email protected]

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