Technology is everywhere, and it is constantly changing. Perhaps the best example of this is cellular phone. Not so many years ago, landlines were the only option, and we all remember waiting by the phone for a friend to call back or feeling frustrated at the inability to reach someone. Today, not only does nearly everyone have a cellular phone, they have a smart phone with email, games, video, and more. This technology is evolving so rapidly that new smart phone models are often outdated just months after release, and mid-sized devices like tablets or e-readers are blurring the lines between phones and computers. This same phenomenon is happening in dentistry, and dental offices often advertise their use of technology to attract new patients. Here are a few examples:
Lasers – Lasers are used in certain dental procedures as a substitute for a drill or a scalpel.
There are many different types of lasers on the market, and some are specifically advertised as a way to avoid Novocaine or as a treatment for periodontal disease (LANAP).
Digital x-rays– These are exactly what you might think. Digital x-rays are the same types of images as those that have been around for years, but instead of using actual film, these types of x-rays utilize sensors that create a digital image on a computer screen. The advantage here is that these images can be easily stored and sent between offices.
Electronic records–Instead of storing your dental records in a paper chart, electronic record systems are computer programs specifically designed for storing patient information in a health care office. Again, the idea is to cut down on physical storage needs, and to improve access and communication.
Intra-oral cameras – An intra-oral camera is a small, high definition digital camera that looks like a large pen. It can be moved around in a patient’s mouth and used to take actual pictures of their teeth/gums. This enables better communication between dentist and patient, and the pictures can be added to the patient record for monitoring purposes.
3D x-rays – Also known as cone-beam CT scans or CBCT, this is a special type of x-ray that is used in orthodontics (braces), endodontic (root canals), and dental implants. 3D x-rays show a patient’s jaw or teeth as an exact 3 dimensional object on the computer screen, which aids in diagnosis and planning of complex dental procedures. These x-rays have more radiation than conventional x-rays, and therefore should be used for specific indications.
Same-day Crowns – This concept actually refers to two pieces of rather amazing technology. One is called a digital scanner and the other is a milling unit. The scanner looks like a large pen and can be used to take a 3D picture of a tooth, which then creates a perfect replica of that tooth on the computer. From there, a computer program can be used to design an artificial crown. That design is then sent to the milling unit which takes a block of ceramic material and carves it into the crown previously designed.
On the surface, each of these items has tremendous appeal, and it might be easy to think that a dental office with lots of technology is better than one with less. However, the reality is more complicated than you might think. Yes, each of these pieces of technology can be of benefit, but they also are very expensive items and do not always result in better patient care. Let’s look at an example.
One of the most widely used systems for creating same-day crowns today is known as CEREC. As described above, the CEREC system is a combination digital scanner and in-office milling machine. There is no messy impression goop; no need for a 2nd appointment, and the technology can be exceptionally accurate. So what are the down sides? For starters, the CEREC units cost over $120,000, which means that a dentist needs to do a lot of same-day crowns to recoup their investment. Over-treatment is always a risk when a dental office feels pressure to pay for an expensive piece of equipment. Another challenge is that computer software for same-day crowns is very powerful, but it can’t do the dentist’s job for them. If a careful technique is not followed during isolation and scanning procedures, there is greater risk that the fit and contour of that same-day crown will not be acceptable. Put another way, garbage in equals garbage out. Finally, some situations are simply more challenging than others, and it may take hours to create an excellent crown, which can mean lots of time in the dentist’s chair waiting. With the cost of dental care what it is, wouldn’t it be better to let the dentist take his or her time, and make sure that the outcome’s the best it can be?
Ultimately, each piece of technology in dentistry has its own unique list of benefits and risks. Dental offices chose to incorporate them into their practice based on a wide variety of reasons, and patients are largely unaware of the factors that go into that decision. So the answer to our question is yes on both accounts. Technology can help improve patient care and yes; sometimes a dental office will use it as a marketing gimmick. The important thing to remember is that dental care, like all health care is about trust. Technology does not make a dental office good; it simply helps good people take care of patients better.
Trailhead Dental utilizes electronic records, digital x-rays, intra-oral cameras, and a number of other digital technologies. Each piece of equipment is selected with the goal of improving patient care, and helping to reduce patient costs. If you would like to learn more about Trailhead Dental, digital technology, or would like to schedule an appointment with Dr. Bryan Limmer, please contact us at 720-242-6803 or at email@example.com