Advances in clinical dentistry are continuously redefining how dentists should provide dental and oral care services to their respective patients. These technological advances allow for better and more accurate diagnosis of actual oral and dental health problems, paving the way for the more judicious use of equally-effective and safe treatment modalities. Unfortunately, one question remains: do all dentists use new clinical technologies that are now made available especially for them?
There is evidence to show that digital imaging techniques provide a host of advantages over conventional methods such as film radiography (see it here). These technologies provide clearer images that allow for better visualization, understanding, assessment, and evaluation of the current state of health of the teeth, gums, and other structures of the oral cavity. Additionally, whereas conventional film images require storage compartments that need meticulous indexing, digital imaging technologies can be integrated with data management systems that allow for instantaneous digital data archiving. When a patient comes to the dental clinic, dentists’ assistants no longer have to physically search their filing cabinets for the patient’s records as everything can already be accessed digitally.
Digital imaging systems also improve communication among and between healthcare professionals – dentists, doctors, and other members of the healthcare profession who may be caring for the same patient. The sharing of digital information including digital images allow various members of the healthcare team to tailor-fit their individual plan of care so that it takes into consideration the images taken.
More importantly, digital imaging technologies allow for the sharing of such invaluable information to patients even though they don’t visit the clinic anymore just to get the results. These digital images can be sent through electronic mail platforms and both dentist and patient can communicate through digital means.
Among the dentists in the world, the French have the most in terms of level of adoption. More than three-quarters of their dentists have been using digital imaging techniques as of 2010. Dentists in the US posted lower adoption rates perhaps because of reimbursement issues. In New Zealand, only 58% of dentists use digital radiography in their clinical practice, with non-adopters citing the cost of acquiring the technology as the major stumbling block.
Computer-aided Design and Manufacturing Technology
Another clinical technology that dentists of the modern era should be using is Computer-Aided Design / Computer-Aided Manufacturing technology. In the past, dentists have to take impressions of their patients’ dentition. These impressions are then used in the fabrication of prosthetics. The process itself is not comfortable for the patient and usually takes time before the prosthetic can be fabricated.
CAD and CAM technologies simplify the whole process of prosthetic fabrication by using digital information, processing this information to create a 3D image of the oral cavity, and simplify the process of designing the prosthetic. Using computers, a 3D model can be created fast and with great precision.
These technologies are often used in digital dentures, surgical guides, indirect dental restorations, implant components, and even orthodontic treatments. They improve workflow, increase the level of reliability and accuracy, and improve patient comfort.
Sadly, less than half of all dentists worldwide use CAD/CAM technologies in their clinical practice. In the UK, only 42 percent of dentists use such technologies. The level of adoption in other countries may even be lower owing to issues in cost as such technologies are rarely inexpensive. There are also dentists who don’t necessarily believe in the clinical benefits that these technologies have to offer.
Dental technicians, on the other hand, are more receptive to the use of such technologies. This is quite expected since it is part of their function to fabricate devices and tools that will be used by dental professionals.
Challenges to the Use of Clinical Technologies
Cost is the number one barrier to the use and adoption of clinical technologies by dentists. This is especially true for newer technologies. As such, there is still hope that majority of dentists will embrace such technologies soon enough as innovations continue to push the costs of these systems downwards, making it more affordable for individual practitioners. Inadequate knowledge of such technologies also poses a major challenge to their full utilization. This can be addressed by formal training programs.
Do dentists use new clinical technology? Yes, they do; but, not all of them.