Digital Dentistry

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Digital technology has changed the way we live. Looking at the future of dentistry, it is also digital.

In broadest terms, digital dentistry is, to paraphrase Dr. Paul L. Child, noted prosthodontist and lecturer, any dental technology or device that incorporates digital or computer-controlled components in contrast to analog dentistry, the basis of which is technology founded in 1904 and solely uses mechanical or electrical components.

For you, the consumer, the patient, what does a “digital or computer-controlled” experience look like?

Think about your last trip to the dentist.

Were you sent an appointment reminder a day or two before? And if so, was it sent by email or mailed by postcard with a stamp? If x-rays were taken, were the images of your teeth shown on a computer screen or on traditional photographic film? At the end of your visit, was your next appointment recorded in a computer or penciled in on a big three-ring binder?

The more your visit incorporated digital or computer-based technology, the more you encountered digital dentistry as opposed to traditional analog dentistry.

Simply put, digital dentistry is the future of dental practice, from appointment reminders to filling cavities to producing crowns and other treatments. It’s a revolutionizing force that is happening right now, just as digital technology in general has advanced and changed society as a whole the past 20 years. (Take the advent of email technology, for example, which has transformed the volume and manner of written communication, making it faster (the Internet), easier (just hit “send”) and cheaper (free)).

To illustrate a bit more, let’s go behind the scenes at dental practices.

Imagine going to the dentist to get a crown made. Imagine getting that familiar putty-like goop in your mouth to make the impression for that crown and the familiar fear that the goop would stick permanently to your teeth. Imagine, at the end of the day, Federal Express trucks picking up 10,000 such impressions of patient teeth from different dental offices across the country, including yours. These impressions are delivered to various dental labs that will, in turn, use them to produce high-quality crowns for patients. Imagine the same volume of pick-up and delivery by Federal Express every day. Imagine, also, dental labs producing crowns for final delivery to dental offices two weeks at a time, every day. This is a familiar routine in analog dentistry.

Imagine, now, if that impression could be computer scanned more accurately and emailed as a digital file to a dental lab. Imagine if a crown could be made by machine, thereby circumventing the quality and time control issues that plague handmade crowns.

Imagine if dental offices didn’t have to pay for the cost to package and ship those impressions and crowns for delivery. Imagine the cost savings. Imagine the time saved, too – at least a week. Imagine a process that is exponentially faster and more accurate.

Dentists could see more patients and labs could produce more crowns because the process was faster, easier, simpler. Patients — the greatest beneficiaries — would get their crowns sooner, within days, and without fear.

Welcome, again, to digital dentistry.

S-Ray: Enabling Digital Dentistry

S-Ray 3D

With S-Ray technology, dentistry more fully enters the realm of digital practice where faster, safer and more in-depth 3D imaging is the norm.

S-Ray and its ultrasound technology is the leading edge enabler of digital dentistry in the world, allowing dentistry to be faster, safer and more accessible in a way that can touch a greater number of dental practices and patients alike.

But what does that process look like?

The following scenario is what a patient would experience at the dentist during a regular visit using the S-Ray ultrasound platform — the ClearView SCAN product, in this instance.

The Patient arrives at the reception desk. Practice Management software (PM) confirms the appointment while an operatory (examining room) is assigned.

Patient moves to the operatory. The PM terminal in operatory opens the patient’s Electronic Dental Record (EDR). This sets the physical location of the patient for the networked computing devices.

When the patient is seated, a dental assistant or hygienist (operator) activates the S-Ray system using an icon on PM software. This links the S-Ray scanner — the ClearView SCAN — to that specific patient and EDR. The S-Ray handheld control unit confirms the activation when an indicator bulb turns on.

The operator introduces the S-Ray system to the patient and explains that it is ultrasound-based. It will quickly and comfortably show the patient and the dental staff all of the patient’s teeth on the chairside monitor. The patient is told that the ultrasound system does not create heat, vibration, noise or anything noticeable. The mouthpiece is designed for patient comfort to help minimize the anxiety often felt during a dental exam.

The operator takes the single use mouthpiece out of the shipping bag and explains to the patient that the very soft and comfortable mouthpiece uses ultrasound and does not emit radiation like an x-ray. The operator then places the mouthpiece in the patient’s mouth and pushes the “scan” button on the handheld S-Ray scanner unit. He or she will then instruct the patient to slowly bite down on the mouthpiece until the upper and lower teeth touch.

In less than 1 minute from the time the bite is initiated, the scan will be complete and the mouthpiece removed. The mouthpiece is disconnected from the control unit and returned to the shipping bag. The used mouthpieces will be returned to S-Ray as a model of good environmental stewardship by reducing the amount of waste. (The mouthpieces will be received by S-Ray and remanufactured.)

The images will be produced within the PM software and integrated with the EDR. The S-Ray software does not require any keystrokes except for clicking on the “activate” icon in the PM.

From start to finish, this initial process of data collection, image construction, patient education and introduction to the treatment planning process will take less than 10 minutes.

The patient and dental staff will now be empowered to discuss oral health issues before anyone has their fingers in the patient’s mouth.

Welcome to digital dentistry and the S-Ray ultrasound platform.

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