When I joined my father’s practice in 1994, the staff and I would process film x-rays and store them in 8’’ x 10’’ envelopes. These envelopes also housed patients’ charts, treatment plans, notes, consent forms, lab slips, and miscellaneous items. My father had been in practice for a few decades before I came on board, so most of these “files” were bulging with information. Some patients even had volumes of envelopes. I quickly became frustrated with this “filing system” and started looking for alternatives.
I began researching dental software packages, and before the year’s end I had invested in a DOS computer for my front office and signed up with Dentrix (Henry Schein). Since those days, we have evolved from one computer to more than a dozen. We’ve also added new technologies, which include digital imaging, CEREC (Dentsply Sirona), CBCT, lasers, and 3-D printing.
I am drawn to new dental technology like a kid in a toy store. New tech makes the practice of dentistry more fun for me and my staff—and when we’re having fun, we can provide better experiences for our patients.
As dentists, we strive to provide the best treatment. Oftentimes we invest in expensive hardware, software, and the newest technologies to provide that care. Unfortunately, our best intentions sometimes lead us to our largest frustrations. When one piece of technology doesn’t play well with the others, or when we have to jump through hoops to switch from one software program to another, everyone can get discouraged—including patients. It shouldn’t be like that.
Integrated and connected workflows are key. Perhaps the most important example is the integration between my practice management software and imaging software. In my practice I still use Dentrix, and my images are viewed via Sidexis (Dentsply Sirona). For example, when my patient comes in for a filling on tooth No. 3, I simply open the Dentrix chart and have access to clinical notes, x-rays, and intraoral photos of the tooth all on one screen. When I see a distal-occlusal restoration charted for tooth No. 3, I can immediately verify the position and depth of the caries simply by opening the chart. I’m not wasting my time, my assistant’s time, or my patient’s time searching for records.
I’m also a firm believer in using CBCT imaging to aid diagnosis and treatment. Plus, with Smart Image my Orthophos XG 3D (Dentsply Sirona) scans are accessible with just one click. These scans enable me to plan and execute treatment with the utmost safety and precision, and the integration of CBCT and CEREC makes guided implant placements and restorations seamless processes.
I also use scans to educate my patients and to encourage them to codiagnose with me. In order for patients to stay engaged, this process needs to be quick and simple. The technology I have enables me to present the big picture in a format that is easy for patients to digest: The scan, x-rays, and photos show the problem alongside the recommended solution, with a treatment planner showing the necessary procedures, costs, and insurance estimates. This integrated technology expands patients’ confidence in my practice and encourages them to say “yes” to treatment.
When I look back to the time I started practicing nearly 25 years ago, I marvel at the evolution of dentistry and wonder what’s on the horizon. I can’t wait for the next integrations and improvements in the works. Hopefully when my son joins my practice in 2024, he will appreciate all the tech that I’ve acquired over the years. I’m glad that he’ll never write in a paper chart or develop a film x-ray, and I hope that together we will see dental technology evolve even further to provide better care for our patients.
Daniel G. Butterman, DDS, FICOI, MADIA,is a general and cosmetic dentist in Centennial, Colorado, with a practice emphasis on implant placement and restorative dentistry. He lectures locally, nationally, and internationally on various topics, including implants and single-visit dentistry.