November/December 2010, Volume 6, Issue 10
Published by AEGIS Communications
Key Breakthroughs in Dentistry in the Last 25 Years
Roger P. Levin, DDS
Higher quality of care, increased comfort, and more choices for patients have all greatly improved.
As Levin Group celebrates its 25th anniversary, I find myself reflecting with amazement on what has happened in dentistry in those 25 years. As a third-generation dentist, I have a unique perspective on how advances in science, technology, materials research, and a host of other fields have affected dentistry over the years. These breakthroughs have resulted in a higher quality of care, increased comfort, and more choices for patients.
As a child, I often visited the offices of my father and grandfather and had my first exposure to the dental technology of the time. Amalgam was the restorative of the day and there were limited choices in crown-and-bridge materials, technologies, and equipment. Brief eras of technological breakthrough that did not work included audio analgesia and a few other spectacular failures. Fortunately, things were about to change.
Porcelain Laminate Veneers
It was an amazing reality that by removing a small amount of enamel, the front of teeth could simply be changed for the better and in a very short period of time. This gave many adult patients opportunity to change their smiles in a few days or weeks without undergoing extensive tooth reduction or other long-term procedures.
The porcelain laminate veneer era had begun and dentists raced to courses to learn how to prepare teeth, work with dental laboratories on this new service, and what steps needed to be taken to achieve outstanding results. Materials continued to emerge at a rapid pace with constant improvement in strength, retention, longevity, and beauty.
Whitening began with chemicals, rubber dams, and lights that often caused high levels of patient discomfort during the in-office procedure. Tray whitening made it possible for patients to not only work with the dentist and dental practice, but also manage the service at home. Today, options range from chemicals to lasers to over-the-counter products that all work in varying degrees.
Over the years, the American public'sperception of beauty has changed. When I was in dental school, cosmetic dentistry was still very much a luxury. Now, an entirely new mindset exists. Patients are keenly aware of their smiles as the deluge of popular over-the-counter whitening products attest. For many Americans, a great smile is simply part of looking attractive.
While cosmetic dentistry was exploding, another breakthrough arrived that would impact dentistry immeasurably -dental implants. The new osseointegrated cylinder implants were easy to place compared to their predecessors. At first, success rates were not as high as they are now and component parts could be complicated, but all that would change quickly.
Advances in implants were rapid. The design, shape, and variety of implants exploded and options for patients continued to grow. It was clear that implant dentistry was becoming a permanent fixture. By the late 1990s, success rates were soaring and component parts had been greatly simplified. Today, many dentists view implants as a standard of care.
In my grandfather's era, there was no dental insurance and patients had to pay as they went. Many dentists yearn for this scenario, but the truth is that far fewer patients went to the dentist back then, and the average production per patient in real dollars was significantly less.
Dental insurance must be credited with bringing more patients to the practice and is one of the strongest reasons why patients will come for regular hygiene. Without dental insurance, I firmly believe that many patients would put off dental care and that revenues to dental practices would be significantly lower.
The First Practice Management Software
Early computers and software arrived on the scene with high price tags. Fortunately, all kinds of new programming were soon developed and competing companies brought prices down. Today, it is almost unthinkable that a dental practice would not have some type of practice management software and management systems to support them. At one time, having terminals in the treatment and hygiene rooms was a very advanced concept. Today, it is the norm.
Dentistry has benefited from the development of computers and software in the business world and this will obviously continue. Simply take a look at the number of practices that now use Facebook and Twitter to communicate with patients and a clear glimpse of the future emerges.
New technologies such as laser dentistry, cone beam radiology, digital x-ray, diagnostic imaging, intraoral cameras, and a host of others have created almost a new profession. Today, the ability of practices to provide technological solutions, advances, and comfort for patients is almost staggering. The real challenge for dentists is deciding which technologies to purchase and how to afford them.
To some degree, the decision-making for each practice regarding technologies will involve a focus on particular services or determining how practice growth is affected. Remember that technologies will always continue to improve, miniaturize, and, over time, become lower in cost. Waiting for the lower price can cost a practice lost opportunities to benefit patients and generate increased revenue.
The last 25 years represent extraordinary progress in the dental profession. But it has also changed how dentists practice and even how they think. With all of the innovations and new technology arriving on the scene, managing the practice is more complicated than it used to be. New technology means more training because more is expected from each team member. Balancing the need to provide optimal patient care with purchasing decisions, training, and patient education means dentists have to step up to their leadership roles like never before.
In honor of Levin Group's 25th anniversary, Inside Dentistry readers are entitled to receive a 50% courtesy on a Levin Group Practice Production Analysis, an in-office analysis and report of your unique situation conducted by a Levin Group Senior Practice Analyst. To schedule the next available appointment, call 888-973-0000 and mention "Inside Dentistry" or email firstname.lastname@example.org with "Inside Dentistry" in the subject line. For more information on Levin Group programs and seminars, go to: http://www.levingroupgp.com.