As I plow through stacks of brochures that I accumulated at the recent ADA meeting in Orlando, I must report that there was nothing new in my tech realm that really revolutionized dentistry. What I found were enhancements on existing products and some new competition for the existing ones. More important, though, were better attempts at integrating all of the puzzle pieces to make the dental office function more smoothly.
One of the largest attractions on the meeting floor had to be the ADA's Tomorrow's Dental Office Today, put together jointly with Sullivan-Schein. This is essentially a tractor trailer that contains an entire dental office with two fully operational treatment areas. Everything from the front desk to the exit is digital. The check-in is done electronically using Dentrix, and all of the treatment is planned and recorded in the system. The treatment areas included digital radiography, both wired (ImageRAYi) and phosphor plate with monitors strategically placed for the patient and doctor. Lasers were available for diagnosis as well as for treatment. The big buzz, however, was their new CAD system, Evolution 4D. More on this in a minute.
Schein's goal is to use this not only as an educational tool for dentists, but to bring treatment to areas that might not receive it due to economics or geography. Be sure to take a tour of this interesting concept when it literally comes to a meeting near you.
As far as integration goes, almost all of the cabinets and chairs shown had conduits for computer parts and monitors. More devices were made to be inconspicuous and able to be placed at the provider's fingertips. There were a number of independent "technology integrators" (including DE's Lorne Lavine), but the large supply houses showed that they are willing to invest a lot to keep all of the integration and integrators under one roof. Patterson and Benco (and I am sure others that I did not have time to see) rolled out their "one phone call" approach to service for the equipment and the tech side. Many doctors I spoke to still want to do it all themselves, but (as one who does this) I caution them to have someone in the wings for the repairs, upgrades, etc. that just aren't worth the practitioner's time. I think it is more of an ego or hobby thing, but sometimes our time IS money and we should stick to the profession at hand.
As I said, there was a lot of interest directed to the first real competition for the CEREC. Sullivan-Schein had rolled out a prototype of its chairside CAD system last February in Chicago. The system that was at the ADA was a bit more finished but probably still a peek into the near future. The unit appears to be capable of creating one-visit partial and full-coverage restorations with a wide array of materials including gold. It did not escape the watchful eye of the people from Sirona, which is all good news for the profession in general. Although CEREC 3D has shown to be a proven, fabulous system, including winning an award from Rick Masek at the AACD meeting, competition will put pressure on both companies to refine this technology even further. The winners will be the practitioners and the patients.
One other observation had to do more with the corporate side of the industry. With some recent acquisitions, many of my familiar representatives were wearing different logos. Most notable is the Kodak name. As the new owners of the Practiceworks/Trophy/DICOM group, most of the products will bear the Kodak name. This is not surprising, as Kodak is one of the most recognizable brands in the world right after Coke and McDonalds. Patterson now owns CAESY while Danaher has acquired KaVo and Gendex, which should lead to some interesting integration and rebranding. As you are reading this, we are entering the new meeting season where, as your investigative reporter, I will delve into the products and report back here. It's a tough job, but ... you know the rest.
Dr. Paul Feuerstein installed one of dentistry's first computers in 1978. For more than 20 years, he has taught courses on technology throughout the country. He is a mainstay at technology sessions, including annual appearances at the Yankee Dental Congress, and he is an ADA Seminar series speaker. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.