Dental technology is continuously being refined and improved. However, 2020 and 2021 were particularly fertile years for its advancement. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, several promising new technologies that were on the horizon were pushed into wide adoption, particularly teleconsulting.
In addition, pre existing tools such as digital scanning and 3D printing continued to be adopted by more and more practices. Soon, some experiences that patients indelibly associate with going to the dentist, like getting physical molds of their teeth, may be a thing of the past.
Let’s review some of the recent advances in dental technology and what they’ll mean for practices in 2023.
Dentistry, like most fields of medicine, requires face-to-face contact. So as the world went into lockdown in March 2020 in response to COVID-19, dental practices faced an existential threat. But fortunately, dentists were able to bounce back quickly due to enhanced safety protocols and the introduction of virtual consultations.
Platforms such as Skype and Zoom enable easy communication between dentist and patient. Though dentists obviously cannot conduct teeth cleanings or install crowns virtually, they can:
- Give a teleconsultation, explaining details of an upcoming dental procedure to a patient and giving them pre-op instructions.
- Make a telediagnosis, using previously collected images and data to diagnose a patient’s dental issues.
- Telemonitor patients after their procedures, conducting a quick survey of how patients are feeling and checking for post-op issues.
Virtual consultations are also a powerful tool to help underserved populations, which ensures that they’ll likely be part of most dental practices going forward. Being able to converse with a dentist without visiting the office is a great benefit for:
- Low-income patients who may not have reliable transportation to the office
- Rural patients who may live far away from the closest dentist
- Elderly patients, especially those with low mobility
- Physically and intellectually disabled patients
The lesson for dentists going forward: even though dentistry will always require in-person contact, virtual visits are here to stay.
Up until recently, there’s been only one way to get an accurate model of a patient’s teeth: make a mold. This requires the patient to physically visit the office, and the mold takes time to set, then get shipped to the lab where the patient’s appliance is constructed. Along the way, there can be a number of complications: molds can get damaged or lost, or may be unusable if the process was conducted improperly.
All this is set to change. New digital imaging equipment such as the iTero intraoral scanner has become so powerful that it’s starting to supersede physical molds. Dentists can now create a 3D picture of a patient’s teeth with a simple scan that’s more detailed and accurate than a physical mold, and harder to misplace.
Small handheld scanners like iTero create digital impressions in just a few minutes. The process is especially helpful for Invisalign patients, as it allows retainers to be manufactured quicker. Dental practices are finding that investing in a digital imagery solution allows them to increase their number of Invisalign patients, which brings in more revenue.
Additionally, for orthodontic treatments, any initial mold quickly becomes obsolete as the teeth shift position. With a digital scanner, orthodontists can create new scans as needed to adjust treatments while they are still in progress.
Unlike a mold, scans are infinitely replicable and easier to send to the dental labs that craft appliances. Rather than mailing a package that may take days to arrive, new dentists just have to email a set of scans and the lab can get right to work, saving time and providing a better experience for patients.
Scanners like iTero are also helpful for placing:
- Dental crowns
- Dental bridges
- Inlays and onlays
These treatments all involve the precision placing of dental appliances. Better fits mean less chance of breakage and tooth pain, which means happier patients.
Digital scanning is revolutionizing dentistry, and any practice that doesn’t invest in this new technology may find themselves left behind. Fortunately, more and more dentists are upgrading their equipment and seeing its benefits firsthand.
3D printing technology has been around since the early 1980s, but in recent years, the capabilities of 3D printers have skyrocketed. They can now be used to produce everything from plastic toys to computer parts to dental appliances.
The 3D printing process begins with a digital file of the desired object’s design. The printer then uses a stock of material (plastic, ceramic, metal, plaster) to build the object one layer at a time. This process has long been used to create prototypes and product models, but it has become so refined that it can now produce finalized, durable, market-ready products.
One of the leading users of 3D printing is the dental industry. This is because 3D printers are perfectly suited to create dental devices such as:
- Dental bridges
- Dental Veneers
- Orthodontic models