Technology Revolutionizing Dentistry

Written by on February 2, 2012 in Features, Research & Technology - No comments
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By Cathy Warschaw

Dentists are finding that advancements in technology are quickly working their way into every aspect of their office. In the past, the primary focus has been on how technology can improve treatment, but these days we are seeing that the front office can find technology beneficial as well. Some dentists are discovering that implementing these technological advances can significantly reduce the work load of their front office staff, making them more productive.

The Internet has become a tremendous asset when it comes to new patient protocol. Online registration, health history and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) forms can now be built right into an office’s website for patients to easily access. This prevents the staff from having to wait for that patient who has the 8 a.m. appointment and takes 20 minutes to fill out paperwork, putting a kink in the entire schedule of the day. Patients can submit their information online or print the forms at home and bring them to their scheduled appointment already filled out. They can also utilize a kiosk, iPad or other tablet device to fill out forms in the office when they arrive.

Electronic alerts allow dental front offices to communicate with their patients more effectively. Many offices use text messages to send patients appointment reminders in intervals – one week, one day or 30 minutes prior to an appointment. Patients seem to prefer text message alerts, since many are now wired into our mobile devices, and can confirm appointments right from their phone. Automated call systems allow patients to verify appointments without a staff member ever picking up the phone. Emails and electronic billing reduce the work time of staff members for patient communication. The results are increased front office efficiency!

We’re also aware of the technology that has improved treatment and patient flow in the back office. Computer Aided-Designed (CAD)/Computer Aided Manufactured (CAM) machines reduce the number of additional patient appointments by allowing dentists to create a crown and deliver it the same day. This also cuts back on missed appointments and even some collections as the patient knows that their treatment and payment will be expected on the same day.

Digital radiography is eliminating dark rooms and the harmful chemical fumes that are associated with traditional x-rays. Digital film usage provides more office space and reduces the amount of time spent processing images. Imagine if every patient’s appointment could be shortened by five minutes! Digital x-rays generate images onto a computer screen instantly for viewing, or can be scanned directly into the office management software. The image resolution is of such a higher quality, the images can be used for electronic referrals or insurance claim submissions.

Advancements in oral cancer screenings are helping dentists identify possible pathologies earlier than ever. Systems like VELscope and Vizilite help mark and identify tissue lesions and anomalies that are precancerous and not always visible to the naked eye. These advanced screening methods give dentists the ability to catch oral cancer at an earlier diagnosis. These systems have become so common that patients are beginning to expect them from their dental caregivers, and even some insurance plans are beginning to cover these procedures.

Lasers are taking on a broader role when it comes to dental treatment. They can make treatment less painful and decrease recovery time after dental procedures. Lasers were traditionally used for tissue modification like crown lengthening or tumor removal, now they can also be used to treat cold sores, remove decay, dental fillings and in some cases even provide therapy for sleep apnea or temporomaudibular joint disorders (TMJ).

Dental implants are evolving and extending eligibility to patients who may not have been dental implant candidates in the past. The mini-implant is a thin, titanium implant placed immediately after an extraction. They are useful in the replacement of one tooth or in groups of four to seat immediate dentures for added stability. Because of the lack of healing time (compared to six months for a traditional implant), it reduces the necessity of follow-up appointments and can improve office profits.

Hygienists and assistants can save time for dentists with the use of caries detection devices like the diagnodent. Diagnodent devices use a laser to penetrate the tooth density and detect decay at earlier stages and more accurately than traditional methods (checking for a “stick” with an explorer). The hygienist or assistant can record these readings prior to the exam so dentists will know ahead of time what areas may require treatment.

As technology becomes more prominent in the dental field, embracing these changes will increase office efficiency throughout the entire practice. Patients will be able to benefit from the increased amount of one-on-one time spent with practitioners and reduced wait time for treatment. This makes patients and the office happy, making quality of care that is promoted by the use of technology well worth the investment!

Cathy Warschaw
is the Director of the Warschaw Learning Institute, has both national and international credentials. Having traveled throughout the world, she has participated in hotel management overseas, owned an international restaurant, supported and worked on the boards of a number of multi-cultural organizations. Cathy has dedicated herself to helping others become strong, independent individuals. She is also the  Director of the Dental Management Club a unique membership site for dentists and dental team members worldwide.

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