Interview: Eliminating the Great Digital Divide

June 26, 2013
Some dental professionals out there are leading a double life. They use incredibly powerful handheld devices to connect to people and places all around the world. T

Making the financial case for going digital with your impressions

by Dr. Brad Dykstra

Some dental professionals out there are leading a double life.

They use incredibly powerful handheld devices to connect to people and places all around the world. They navigate their environment in state-of-the-art vehicles, using GPS technology to get to their destinations. They are wired, inspired, and connected in ways that were unfathomable just a few years ago.

Yet when they step into their practice, they step back into the 1940s. They are using incredibly dated technology that hasn't kept pace with the rest of the world. They navigate jobs using recordkeeping procedures that date back to, well, the invention of recordkeeping. Their practices are tired, uninspired, and antiquated considering what's available to them.

Okay, so maybe we're exaggerating, but only a little. Dental practices are notoriously slow when it comes to adopting new technology. This might be most true when it comes to taking impressions. Few procedures leave such a poor taste in the mouth of patients, both literally and figuratively. The alginate impression process dates back to the 19th century.

While some practices might not understand the technology, just about all practices understand the bottom line. So let's talk dollars.

DE sat down with Dr. Bradley Dykstra, owner of Hudsonville Dental Associates in Michigan. Dr. Dykstra is a little unusual in that he has an MBA in addition to his dental degree. This might be why he's so analytical when it comes to new technology. Dr. Dykstra owns an iTero® Intraoral Scanner, something he features prominently on his website.

"I use a decision chart to eliminate the emotion from the decision making process,” he said. "If you put it through the decision tree you can add a degree of rationality. To me, it's a no brainer. It's positive for the patient, and positive and profitable for the practice.” He has a spreadsheet to support what he says.

Dr. Dykstra assumes a reasonable average of $400 of production per hour, and a speedy nine-minute traditional impression procedure. Using these figures, he estimates the time and materials will cost him about $80 for each impression he takes. By comparison, the digital impression he captures with his iTero takes three minutes ($20 worth of time) and can be completed for $20. That's just $40. That means that the traditional impression is twice as expensive as a digital impression.

But Dr. Dykstra doesn't stop there. There's a second cost that practices must endure — the dreaded remake. Dr. Dykstra figures that between the chairtime needed to reimpress a patient, the procedure itself, anesthetic, and packing and shipping, each faulty impression will wind up costing around $420. Again, these are conservative numbers.

Dr. Dykstra admits he's somewhat baffled by people who say digital scanning doesn't make financial sense. "I'm adamant about it,” he said. "The only practice it wouldn't make sense for is one that does only one crown a week. It saves so much time and so much money. But dentists are afraid of change. It's like they go into their office and it's another era, and then they go home and step back into the modern era.”

Dr. Dykstra has also seen a marked reduction in the time he spends seating his restorations, thanks to the accuracy that the iTero digital scanner produces. What used to take 30 minutes now takes about 10 minutes. "Patients love that I can simply pop the temporary crown off and pop on a new one. They remember the old days.”

In addition to the crown and bridge work, Dr. Dykstra says his practice uses his iTero scanner three or four times a week to do bite splints and implant abutments.

What does he say to people who believe their PVS impression system works? "I tell them there's a system out there that not only works better, but it delivers a better clinical endpoint, a more comfortable procedure, and it's more profitable. I liken it to the rotary phone. It still works, but why would you still use it when there's an iPhone 5 available?”

Then there are the intangible benefits. Just because they don't fit neatly into a cost/benefit analysis, they are still real. According to Dr. Dykstra, the combination of wow factor and enhanced reputation that comes from eliminating the unpleasant traditional impression can be the justification for intraoral scanning, even before clicking on the spreadsheet.

Dr. Bradley Dykstra is a general dentist in private practice in Hudsonville, Mich. He is a graduate of the University of Michigan's dental school and received his MBA from Grand Valley State University. Dr. Dykstra speaks on integrating technology into the dental office, and consults through his company, Anchor Dental Consulting. Reach him at (616) 669- 6600, or [email protected].

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