Intraoral scanners and 3D printers
Dr. Marty Jablow.
Digital dentistry technology, including intraoral scanners, was perhaps the most popular tool mentioned by the experts. Dr. Marty Jablow, a dental technology coach and chief development officer at Cellerant Consulting Group, cited intraoral scanners as a game-changer for dentistry.
"We are able to send a crown, a denture, or a partial out and get it back much more quickly than previously," Jablow said. "Digital is as or more accurate and more efficient. There are things we can do in the digital world that we can't do in the analog world."
In addition to being quicker, digital dentistry also leads to a better patient experience, according to Jablow. For instance, software can show patients what their teeth might look like after orthodontic or cosmetic procedures.
"Most people learn visually," Jablow said. "By looking at visual images, people can retain more information."
That sentiment was shared by Michelle Strange, RDH, a practicing hygienist and co-host of the podcast "A Tale of Two Hygienists."
"A picture and a video offer much more than any description I can make in notes," said Strange, who uses an intraoral camera to explain diagnostic information and treatment plans to patients. "It helps with chart audits, and it also really helps the patient to understand what I am describing."
Michelle Strange, RDH.
Investments in technology such as a 3D printer may seem hefty, but the item will pay for itself by improving efficiency in a dental practice, according to Jablow.
Jablow also praised the merits of 3D printing hardware and software, noting that offices can now print night guards and dentures. While the initial cost of the equipment may be high, costs become lower as the practitioner becomes more experienced, he said.
"It requires a different mindset in how you would treat the patient, which can make for greater efficiency in the office and lower costs," he said.
Like Jablow, Dr. Roger P. Levin, founder and CEO of the Levin Group dental practice management consultancy, believes that intraoral scanners and 3D printing technology represent a major advancement in clinical dentistry.
"You can either mill the crown in the office or you can simply hit a button and it goes to the lab," said Levin. "This can allow for patients to be present for one appointment, and they don't have to come back again for that treatment."
Practice management software
Practice management software is another tool that's revolutionizing the dental experience. Implementing automated billing, automated insurance claims, and automated forms completed online outside the office are all steps that greatly increase efficiency for front office staff.
Dr. Roger P. Levin.
But too often practices don't understand the full scope of their practice management software, Jablow noted.
"You need to understand what it can do and get the appropriate training to maximize its benefit," he said.
One thing your software may be able to do is text patients. This feature is one of Levin's favorites.
"You can use some of these systems for marketing, sending out birthday cards, blast messages to patients, and other marketing messages," Levin said.
Rosa Pasquantonio, practice manager at TGO Orthodontics in Westmount, Canada, is also a fan of texting services. She said two-way texting can make things run smoother for the back office.
"There's a lot less back and forth on the phone where administration is concerned," Pasquantonio said. "Patients automatically get updated for their appointment times. I don't think at this point we could live without it in our practice."
Another technology used at TGO Orthodontics is a patient check-in system called Patient Flow. The feature follows patients on their appointment journey and includes color codes and a light bar to indicate where a clinician is at any given moment in the office. That way, the front office knows when a case is done and a treatment room is available.
"This makes our operation seamless," Pasquantonio said.
Other notable tech
While the experts focused primarily on digital dentistry tools and practice management software, Strange also mentioned other favorites for her day-to-day work. Notably, oral cancer screening devices have offered the hygienist peace of mind for screening patients for oral cancer.
"If I do see something suspicious, I can be more specific in communicating with the oral surgeon," she said.
Strange has found the most value, however, in a voice-controlled periodontal charting software that comes with a wireless headset and USB key. She simply plugs the USB key into a computer, and the software transcribes her verbal notes into an audio file that includes pocket depths, recessions, and bleeding.
Before using this software, Strange would focus on the deeper pockets when recording information and record about half the data because of daily time constraints. Now, she records all the information in the same amount of time.
"It helps with following patients and properly classifying patients and their periodontal classification," she said.
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