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Even though people are increasingly aware that oral health is fundamental and strongly connected to our overall health, fear of the dentist is common. However, how and to what extent are new technologies coming to the rescue? And how will the technology-savvy Generations Z (born between 1997 and 2012) and Alpha (born in the early 2010s) be treated?
Just like with other specialties, disruptive innovations will have a huge impact on how dentistry will be practised and how patients will care for themselves in the future. Digital dentistry will become increasingly significant in this new social context. We now live in a world where consumers have fully embraced technology and digital, to the point that entire generations are considered “digital natives”—Generations Z and Alpha. It is therefore appropriate for general dentists and orthodontists to reach these younger generations using not only cutting-edge tools but also innovative platforms. It is increasingly necessary to employ a hybrid model in which physical consultation is complemented by online tools—but still under clinical supervision.
Digital dentistry is not just a buzzword: digitising dental care workflows offers quantifiable benefits in terms of quality, time-savings and reduced labour costs. In fact, digitising and automating manual tasks can reduce the costs of traditional dental laboratories by up to 30%. In terms of efficiency, digital solutions can significantly decrease production and treatment times, and technologies such as CAD/CAM systems can increase capacity by up to 50%. Against this backdrop, adopting advanced digital solutions will allow dental practices to remain competitive while providing a better patient experience that can ensure a more accurate and faster overall result.
Let us take a look at an example of a near-future visit with Dr Piero Venezia, a specialist in prosthodontics based in Bari in Italy. He said: “Currently, patients who come to our practice schedule an appointment through traditional channels (phone, email) but also by contacting us through social messaging channels. We reserve a 45-minute appointment in which we acquire the information we need to formulate a personalised treatment plan. We start with the general and dental history, recorded via digital media, and then move on to the chairside visit. At this point, depending on the complexity of the case, impressions are taken with a 5D intra-oral scanner that, in addition to eliminating the unpleasant experience of the impression material, allows us to make diagnoses of minor and non-visible caries without necessarily taking radiographs. Then, if necessary, digital radiographs (which can significantly reduce the exposure of the patient to radiation), digital photographs (also performed with professional cameras) and possibly even facial scans, that is, 3D radiographs of the face, are taken.”
He continued: “All this material is used to make a correct diagnosis and develop a consequent treatment plan, which is then explained to the patient using visualisation software that makes communication quite effective. The information collected is used to plan and execute all subsequent steps (orthodontics, prosthetics, aesthetic treatments, surgery and implantology). The sharing of clinical cases with dental laboratories takes place on digital platforms.
In our practice, workflows are now completely digital, and this also allows us to monitor the results obtained over time. Digitisation is therefore the present and is very much appreciated by patients, who feel themselves to be even more the protagonists of the success of dental treatment, as they are aware of and involved in our treatments.”
So how can dentists accelerate digital adoption and leverage the potential of technology to ensure comprehensive care and support at all interfaces of the care process? What solutions should they adopt? Let us look at some of them.
Artificial intelligence-based treatment knowledge
Dentists are already using software to obtain detailed clinical decision-making information, based on data available. These programs will evolve further to integrate artificial intelligence algorithms so that dentists can provide the best care for their patients and to make the treatment outcomes more predictable under clinical supervision.
CAD and 3D printing
With 3D printers on-site to fabricate CAD products based on digital imaging, dental laboratories and practices can eliminate the hassle of manual modelling. In addition, these printers enable dentists to produce surgical guides and various appliances. Adoption among dental practices is still low but is expected to grow in the coming years, especially for 3D imaging machines.
One of the greatest problems in the dentist’s chair is the “dental mirror” moment, when the dentist tries to get a better look inside the mouth—an uncomfortable and often painful moment for the patient. However, the advent of intra-oral scanners has put an end to this problem. This unique technology guarantees effortless and painless image acquisition while providing clear and detailed images, even for patients.
One of the main drivers of the European digital dental market is the growing preference for digital impressions over conventional ones. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, safety has become a top priority in clinics and dental laboratories, encouraging many companies to introduce digital technologies to further reduce any risk of infection. The adoption of CAD/CAM systems and 3D printing greatly reduces human interaction and simplifies the process of sending digital impressions. The European digital dentistry market is expected to expand at a cumulative growth rate of 13.6% between 2022 and 2027, the total market value reaching €1.4 billion (US$1.7 billion).