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Vicken Hatsakordzian, Ivoclar Digital Specialist and Speaker at ICDE2017, Talks about His Thoughts on Digital Dentistry

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Looking at the maturing digital landscape

Digital dentistry has arguably been the biggest advancement for dental laboratories over the past decade, and it’s an exciting time to be part of what I see as a “maturing” digital landscape. Technology is moving on rapidly, making it somewhat difficult to keep up with all the new developments, but consumer knowledge is also greatly improving and manufacturers are learning to adapt to the changing requirements of the digital market.

However, some might argue that the pace of new technology adoption is not accelerating as quickly as the production, despite the apparent benefits. From a trend perspective and if we consider Rogers ‘Bell Curve’, then it’s evident we all approach innovations in our own way.

Technology adoption

The early days of digital dentistry saw the ‘innovators’ rise to the surface, those who would pay any money to get their hands on the first digital systems on the market, regardless if the technology was properly ready for market or not. According to Rogers, it’s likely only a small 2.5% of the market would have taken a risk to adopt new technology at this stage. Following closely behind we saw the ‘early adopters’ (approx. 13.5% of the market), those who are more socially apt, often key opinion leaders, who utilise the new innovation as a means to maintain communication with the industry.

A few years later we started to see the ‘early majority’ (34%), a demographic who waited a while before taking the jump into digital, listening to what the ‘innovators’ and ‘early adopters’ had to say and holding back slightly until early glitches were ironed out. Now, we are seeing the ‘late majority’ (34%), those who waited to see where technology was going and are now purchasing CAD/CAM systems for scanning and in-house milling at the very least.

Future innovations

Today we have excellent platforms in terms of digital hardware and software that we can readily build upon. Scanners and milling machines are well-established and now is the time for manufacturers to improve on these and see how far they can be pushed to do things in a faster and even more productive method.

Alongside this, I predict we will see new printing technology take its place alongside scanning. 3D printing has been slow to take off in dentistry, but as printers become more affordable this could be about to change. The current challenge for manufacturers is developing the materials needed to produce printed dentures for example, as all materials used in the mouth have yet to be approved and regulated by governing bodies in Europe and the UK.

Must labs go digital?

The final element to Rogers ‘Bell Curve’ are the ‘laggards’ (16% of the market), the last to adopt new innovations and a group who usually have an aversion to change. With a tendency to be more “traditional” in their processes it is this group that make us question whether going digital is a necessity.

No one can predict the future of dentistry 100%. For years, crowns, bridges, restorations and prosthetics have been made in a traditional way that has been very successful, but now we have new ways of doing things that are faster and more efficient using new equipment, products and materials. Just as we moved from VHS video recorders to HD digital recorders and CDs to digital downloads, the technology is now here to make prosthetics in a new and improved way and this is becoming the normal way of doing dentistry rather than the analogue methods we have been used to in the past.

Educational institutes also have a part to play, recognising there is a digital revolution happening and starting to teach students the digital side of the business. Hopefully now when any student leaves University it’s no mystery to them how CAD/CAM works. We’re in a transitional time in digital dentistry and as analogue methods gradually disappear things will be very different for the next generation of technicians in a digital world.

Making the choice

Even once the decision to adopt has been made, the rapid growth of digital dentistry and the amount of technology out there can make it difficult for laboratories to know which products are best suited for their individual requirements. Is it better to pay more and go for a fully supported and upgradeable system with operator training? Or look to buy cheaper products on the market that offer quick solutions, but can eventually leave you high and dry?

Going digital is a big financial commitment for technicians. In the past, the biggest outlay for a lab was an electronic casting machine costing around £7K. Now for those starting out you’re looking at anything upwards of £12K for a scanner alone. This is another reason why so many ‘late adopters’ waited to see if digital really was going to be the way forward, as so many had protested.

It’s easy when taking the decision to move into digital dentistry to focus purely on cost, but my advice would be there’s a lot more to consider. Although no piece of equipment can ever be totally future-proof you need a digital system that will work for you and cover all aspects of your lab work without any issues and has the capacity to then be upgraded as necessary over time.

I believe this is where manufacturing companies such as Ivoclar Vivadent come into the picture. With an extensive R&D department and a strong focus on education our aim is to continuously introduce the most innovative products on the market. But, adapting to the ever-changing needs of the dental industry means support is key and Ivoclar Vivadent is here to provide installation, educational programmes, training and support to those already on their digital journey, as well as those just starting out.

Digital technology is changing technician’s working lives for the better, doing away with more routine tasks and allowing them to benefit from optimised digital workflows and maximum flexibility and productivity. It really is an exciting time to be a part of the new digital revolution.

Whether you’re an innovator or a late adopter join Vicken Hatsakordzian at the ICDE2017 on 16th – 17th June to hear about the latest innovations in digital dentistry, including digital dentures. Bookings can be made directly via icde.uk, or by calling 0116 284 7880. Places are strictly limited so book your place today to avoid disappointment.

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