The Dental Industry’s Transition to Digital


Digital dentistry: it could mean any number of things. However, for the industry itself, it means an important (and perhaps long overdue) step toward joining the new age of healthcare. Along with improved efficiency dealing with patient scheduling and management, going digital has helped create various dental devices, even aiding in surgical procedures. Simultaneously, dental sales jobs are increasing as the dental field grows its digital footprint.

A Global Movement

The advancement of worldwide dental going digital is a real thing; so much so that independent organizations have sprung up, touting the benefits of this new style. One of these is the Digital Dentistry Society headquartered in Italy. Their mission is simple: “To favour scientific progress and the applicative development of rehabilitation treatment in dentistry and more generally in the field of oro-maxillofacial treatment with the use of digital technology.” Furthermore, the society believes their objective will be pursued through supporting scientific research, the organization of training activities, and the collaboration with companies in all sectors of digital dentistry.

The digital revolution is changing the world. And, according to the DDS, computers and other digital devices are making what were previously manual tasks easier, faster, cheaper, and more predictable, adding:

Even in dentistry, digital technologies are rapidly advancing: new tools such as intra/extra-oral scanners, cone beam computed tomography (CBCT) scanners, computer aided design/computer aided manufacturing (CAD/CAM) software and innovative fabrication procedures such as 3D printing and layered manufacturing are changing the way we treat our patients.”

Looking forward, what does the future hold for the dental field? Let’s do a digital check-up and find out.

The Procedures

Going digital has advanced technology greatly. And when technology improves, so do wait times. Traditionally, being fitted for a crown meant having a model of a tooth made using a mold and then sending it to a dental laboratory to make a crown. A temporary crown would be put in place while the dentist waited to receive the new, finished crown (sometimes a week or longer). Upon returning for a second visit, the patient’s temporary crown is removed and the new crown is cemented into place.

Fortunately for most patients, this “outdated” system may become obsolete. In the last several years, an increasing number of dentists have embraced a quicker option, using computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing (CAD/CAM) technologies. By adopting this digital solution, dentists have begun making crowns in a single office visit while the patient waits.

How does it work? Utilizing the correct software, after taking a digital scan of the mouth using a small camera, a 3-D image of the teeth and gums appears on a computer screen. Based on the position, size, and shape of the damaged tooth, computer software then suggests the ideal dimensions of the needed crown. The dentist fine-tunes the virtual restoration and sends the digital information to a “milling” machine that carves the crown out of a ceramic block, ready to be bonded to the patient’s tooth. The entire process takes less than two hours (USA Today).

“Same-day crowns,” or a “crowns while you wait,” is one of several advancements that reflect the growth in digital dentistry. What are some others?

Specialized lasers: Depending on the procedure, lasers can be used to detect cavities and place fillings, and install dental implants. This often eliminates the need for scalpels, drills, and sutures, meaning less pain and trauma for the patient while often requiring little or no anesthetic either.

Digital radiography or x-rays: These computer-generated images produce a clearer image than traditional film x-rays in a shorter time and have been shown to produce significantly less radiation.

Cone-beam computed tomography (CT) imaging: Similar to a medical CT scan, the x-ray rotates around the patient’s head capturing a 3-D view of the teeth, jaw, gum, and nerves. It can also identify possible tumors and other diseases that don’t appear on traditional x-rays.

Digital dentures: Made using computer design and digital manufacturing, digital dentures offer the convenience of a permanent digital record that can be duplicated easily if the original denture is lost or damaged.

The Root of it All

Adopting digital advances is about finding ways “to improve the experience for patients,” says Steven Spitz, a prosthodontist (specialist in the restoration and replacement of teeth) at Smileboston Cosmetic and Implant Dentistry in Brookline, Massachusetts, in a 2014 USA Today article. Improving experiences can mean automating scheduling and upgrading patient management systems, decreasing patient wait times, or enhancing existing products while making them better. The bottom line is that improving patient experience is at the root of how and why dentistry is going digital.

Dental sales reps are in a unique position to be at the cutting edge of an industry that’s about to take the next step by going digital. While numbers of dental sales jobs are increasing, so is the popularity of these jobs. Secure one of these jobs today and enjoy a truly rewarding career in the growing field of digital dentistry!