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As the senior vice president for product strategy at 3Shape, Dr Rune Fisker has been instrumental in driving the company’s focus on digital dentistry tools and solutions ever since the company’s earliest days. In this interview, he spoke to Dental Tribune International about what he considers the five key trends and innovations to expect from digital dentistry in 2022.
Dr Fisker, the first trend you mention in your article is titled “The dental platform race has begun”. What kinds of platforms are you referring to?
If we take a broader view for a moment, we can understand how certain platforms—Uber, Netflix, Airbnb and so on—have each disrupted the essence of how their respective industries operate. The dental industry, however, hasn’t yet experienced any shifts on this level. In terms of digitalisation, there has been increased adoption of 3D printing, intra-oral scanners, artificial intelligence (AI), digital dentures and clear aligners—all extremely useful tools—yet they remain disconnected. No platform has brought all of these tools together. This is why there are a number of larger tech companies in dentistry trying to build a platform that brings these tools and approaches together to solve a range of problems. What we’ve done at 3Shape, for example, is launch 3Shape Unite, an open platform that connects all the different digital dots in dental clinics.
If we consider digital platforms in the dental clinic, we have to remember that the practice management system will be at the heart of the clinic’s digital workflow. But a practice management system can also be somewhat limited in its functions, and this is where I consider that there is an opportunity for other, digitally integrated platforms to build a presence in dental clinics.
You believe that intra-oral scanners will continue to drive digitalisation in the dental practice, since their adoption is increasing and penetration has reached 30–35% in the US and other mature markets. Do you believe that this adoption will continue to increase in these markets as well as other, less mature markets in 2022?
Many products, especially technological products, follow what is known as an S-curve adoption rate, where there is slow growth in their adoption period, followed by a rapid increase and then slow growth once more. If you plot the adoption of intra-oral scanners in more mature markets, they are clearly following this S-curve model and are currently in the part with steep growth. As a result, we expect both mature and non-mature markets to roughly double their intra-oral scanner penetration rates within the next few years.
What major trends do you expect there will be in dentistry regarding 3D printing and the materials used in these processes?
There has been much progress in 3D printing in recent years and, particularly, in the 3D-printing materials used. The main indications for 3D printers are still models as well as surgical guides and custom trays, but now something like a splint can be printed too. This wasn’t the case a couple of years ago, but the release of new and improved materials has made it possible.
The next important thing that I predict will happen in this area is dentures that are completely 3D-printed. That’s something that is really shaping up to disrupt the denture industry. Orthodontics, crowns and bridges are not exactly being 3D-printed on a mass scale just yet; however, I have no doubt that all dental indications have the potential to be 3D-printed as long as the materials used are suitable.
“I used to say that AI is coming. Now, I believe it has arrived”
Your article states, simply, “AI is here”. In your view, what will the continued integration of AI enable dental professionals to do?
I used to say that AI is coming. Now, I believe it has arrived, but I think we have to understand what defines real AI. It requires a training set and a deep learning network that needs to be trained. In my opinion, there are very few examples of true AI currently being applied in everyday dentistry. And this is where 3Shape stands out. We use AI for intra-oral scanning, treatment simulation and segmenting scans as well as for digital dental design through the 3Shape Automate platform. I feel that we are well ahead of many competitors in this integration of AI; however, it’s clear that AI hasn’t reached its full potential yet.
What does 2022 hold in store for clear aligners and dentures?
Cosmetic dentistry is a clear driver of digitalisation. Clear aligners are leading to an increased uptake in digital dental tools and to the adoption of intra-oral scanners, as a larger, societal emphasis on our appearance continues to be an important factor for the treatments chosen by dental patients.
Of course, dentures, which used to be the missing indication in CAD/CAM, are really beginning to grow. In 3Shape’s laboratory system, we had more than three million digital denture cases come through in 2021—the number of full dentures handled increased by 104%, whereas the number of partial dentures increased by 123%, which is an incredible increase from 2020.
You’ll be discussing the topic “Future digital dentistry trends” at the 3Shape Global Symposium on 31 March at 2 p.m. CEST. What do you think dental professionals will gain from attending your presentation?
In this presentation, I’d like to focus beyond 2022 and these five key trends that we’ve discussed and consider what the long-term future of digital dentistry might be. In doing so, I want participants to understand just how much this approach is growing and what great potential it has to deliver better patient care, better treatment results and more efficient workflows.