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Digital Dentistry - the Time is Now

The following article appeared in the January 2017 edition of Dental Practice Magazine.

It was with snorts and guffaws that we read an article on Intra Oral Scanners replacing impression taking; that must have only been eight short years ago. It wasn’t just scepticism - it was denial that any sort of digital process could be applied to a profession that had relied for so many years on manual techniques, applied by the skilled hand. I wouldn’t say that time has now marched on - rather that technology has sprinted along in front of it.

JJ Thompson is one of the largest orthodontic laboratories in Europe, and was established over 50 years ago. During that time we had seen many changes in orthodontic treatment techniques, but inside the laboratory the manufacturing processes had remained pretty constant, so it was with trepidation that we went down to Somerset in 2007 to view one of the first 3D scanners in the UK - we were amazed. We had seen the first steps of our digital pathway and we were excited by the opportunities offered by the latest boundary pushing technologies.

Today we have a busy scanning and printing department, we have established secure links with all the main manufacturers of intraoral scanners and we even have our own secure transfer portal, so you can easily send and review your patients’ digital files.

No longer the preserve of the so-called ‘early adopters’, digital dentistry has developed and evolved, and now sits firmly in the mainstream. It’s easy to see why. It started with digital study models which further developed to cloud storage and PAR scoring. Through to aligners, virtual treatment plans, arch analysis, treatment simulation, digital bracket placement and now digital bracket removal. All services which offer huge benefits in the orthodontic practice and are viewed by many as an indispensable part of everyday practice life.

There was lots of interest at the BOC in Brighton this year at the Intra Oral scanner stands. These are fast becoming the must-have gadget for any self-respecting digital dentist. But make no mistake, they are no passing fad. The ability to create a 3D file, be it an intra oral or desk top impression scan, offers greater functionality for the orthodontic practice, slicker file transfers to the lab. models storage and file submissions to the NHS board. So if you’re still hanging back to see which model ends up being consigned to the ‘Betamax’ bin, then don’t. Now’s the time to get involved.

A few years ago, Total Orthodontics, working closely with JJ Thompson, were among the first practices to move entirely to digital study models. Partner John Costello talks about the drivers for change:

With 11 practices in the South East, the move from physical to digital was by no means simple, but the end result has been worth it. We’ve seen significant savings in storage, postage costs and staff time, and we also now have a robust and easily accessible study model library. In short, it’s been a great success.’

For some of our customers this is going all too fast. But don’t worry, we still retain our casting department, we are still happy to work with impressions and we still have a wirework dept. manufacturing Hawley retainers and spring appliances. But for doctors requiring file submission confirmation, acceptance, and shipment notification we want to lead the way.

Over the next few years, we’re expecting to see more and more digital services emerging. Of course, not all of them will stand the test of time. Those that are adopted by the industry will offer real and lasting benefits, including a streamlined practice, smoother workflow, reduced appointment times and most importantly, an enhanced patient experience.


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