Dr Elaine Halley explains how partnership with Dentex can better equip dentists for the digital dental age
We live in what is being referred to as the ‘digital age’, where all areas of life are being augmented by the advances of digital technology. Dentistry is no exception to this trend, but why is it that some regions seem to demonstrate greater adaptability than others?
Our colleagues in Denmark and the Netherlands, for example, employ each new technological advance as a matter of course – yet in the UK practitioners often seem to struggle to keep up with ongoing digital enhancements. The question that urgently needs to be answered is, how can we better equip our dentists to deal with this rapidly changing world and to the betterment of patient care?
Now, I am aware that there are many clinicians who will be quietly disagreeing with my broad brush opening statement. Of course, we implement new technologies as they come along. While once we were limited to the purely manual tools and systems, we now have compact digital x-ray machines delivering instantaneous results; patient records are all virtual; we have automated booking systems sending out appointment alerts; and that’s without going into full zirconia crowns, implants and advanced handpieces; none of that had even been dreamt of thirty years ago.
And that’s true, and it’s wonderful, but when you compare the advances within our field to those within the broader categories of medicine and biomedical engineering, not to mention practically every other sector, it’s clear that some areas of dentistry are still lagging behind. It’s not that the technology to take dentistry to the next level isn’t available and constantly evolving, it's more that practices are frequently failing to keep up.
If not, why not?
How many dental practices that you know of are actively employing CAD/CAM (computer aided design/manufacturing) systems, on site either in the lab or chairside? Digital wax-ups or tooth movements guided by digital smile design? Guided surgery for implants and printing surgical guides? Digital occlusal analysis and TMJ diagnosis? Are you using them yourself? If not, why not?
My guess would be two-fold. Firstly, changes in dental technology and how we integrate it into our workflows are occurring at such an incredible rate that keeping up can seem like a job in and of itself. These advances are doubtless for the good of the patient and the clinician both, but how can you continue to deliver exceptional care when you spend all of your time running just to keep up?
Secondly, as dentists we often have so much else to do. For principals, it’s not just running our practice which eats into our time, but also staying abreast of regulatory changes and the associated HR and processes, and that’s even before you’ve seen your first patient of the day. Managing your team, training, property maintenance, profit and loss: all of these things demand your time and attention, and there are only so many hours in the day.
Most of the UK practices who do manage to stay at the cutting edge of advancing tech generally employ someone not involved in direct patient care, specifically to research, roll out, train and maintain advancing systems. While that’s an excellent idea in theory, it of course comes with the very practical concern of additional overheads. In the long term, this investment can pay dividends, but in the short term finding the necessary capital can prove difficult for any solo practitioners outside of the top echelons of the industry.
Every dentist wants their practice to stay on top and deliver the best for their patients. The problem is, if you’re one of the late adopters of digi tech advances, your practice could suffer because patients will go where they get the best for their money; the best care; the best equipment; the best overall experience. If you’re not able to deliver that, they move on, reducing your revenue stream and further impacting upon your ability to invest in the tech which could win them back.
One of the many reasons that dental practitioners decide to become Dentex partners is because it’s an easy way to regain the time they need to take their practice forward, in whichever way they see fit. They might decide that in order to stay abreast of the technological developments themselves they need assistance in the day-to-day management of their surgery. As an added bonus, they can also use the partnership group to learn from the experiences of colleagues who have already made the changes they are considering.
The move from flying solo to being a partner can be daunting, and for those who savour their independence it’s almost the antithesis of all their aspirations. However, being part of a partnership group need not mean losing control of your practice; the clinical control is all yours – if you want it to be – you just have that safety net; that additional layer of support available, should you wish to use it.
If your practice is struggling under the weight of patient demands, digital dentistry probably won’t provide an answer to all your problems. It has, however, been shown to improve both cost and time efficiency, enhance accuracy, and deliver a high level of predictability of outcomes, all of which makes for an extremely useful starting point.
Being the best in your profession isn’t about keeping up with the dental Joneses; it’s about giving your patients the confidence that the care and services you are offering them are the best currently available… And the reassurance that if even better things come along, you’ll be on hand to offer those too.
Dr Elaine Halley is a highly trained and experienced general and cosmetic dentist who attracts patients from all over Scotland. She is a member of: American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, British Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry – Accredited Member, British Dental Association, Association of Dental Implantology (UK) and others. Dr. Halley completed her Master’s in advanced cosmetic dentistry at the Rosenthal Institute in New York – the first cosmetic dentist in Scotland to have done so. She is also an instructor of advanced cosmetic dentistry at the Eastman Dental Hospital in London, and she was the President of the British Association of Cosmetic Dentists in 2009.