Inside Dental Technology
An Interview with David Frazee, BS, MS
Inside Dental Technology (IDT): How do you envision dental technology evolving in the next 5 to 10 years?
David Frazee, BS, MS (DF): As we continue moving quickly to a digitally based, data-rich environment, we believe the future dental ecosystem will look much different than it does today. On the front end, we see the growing adoption of intraoral impression scanners such as the Lava™ Chairside Oral Scanner C.O.S., CBCT scanning for implant treatment planning, and digitally archived patient records containing digital photographs and X-rays.
One of the challenges the industry currently faces is how to effectively store all this data so that it is readily accessible to dental team members and patients in a way that allows integration of and interaction with that data. At 3M Digital Oral Care, we believe we can develop digital platforms that will help laboratory technicians provide better value for tomorrow’s dentist and laboratory customer.
IDT: What technology must be created to manage the vast amounts of digital data generated in the dental office and laboratory?
DF: The industry is likely going to expect or even demand an Internet-based platform that allows data to be managed from any location and does not require the end user to have IT expertise. One enabling technology is cloud computing—the same type of platform used by Amazon.com and Gmail™. The integration infrastructure (software applications and tools, as well as patient and case data) would be stored remotely in the “cloud,” a practically unlimited set of servers. Practices and laboratories would not need to make large capital investments for on-site computers with elaborate data management software to manage this information.
In the cloud, data is stored securely and remotely in a highly organized fashion and is accessible to the patient and provider of care. The cloud model is a non-proprietary, pay-as-you-need-it service, allowing you to scale it to fit your needs. Whether you have one client or 500, you can have as much storage and processing power on the remote server as you need. Your costs map your growth rate, which enables a very low-risk, low-capital investment.
IDT: What might this type of communication protocol look like to the user dealing with a real live case?
DF: Let’s say a patient comes into the dental office and needs a crown. The dentist preps the tooth and takes a digital intraoral scan of the prep and adjacent teeth. The patient is sent into the next room to wait an hour for that crown to be milled, or if the case is more complex like a multi-unit bridge, the dentist can utilize a device like an iPad™ during the scan to show the patient the anatomy and treatment plan and even access smile design software to illustrate case outcome. In some cases, patients could access that same information on an iPad synchronized with the dentist’s (perhaps using an intelligent network), then check the box that says they understand and accept the treatment plan. The case is then electronically sent to the laboratory, allowing the dentist to collaborate with the laboratory technician if necessary. Patients can also track scheduling and delivery of the final restoration from the lab to their dentist’s office and see their in-office restoration results.
IDT: What needs to take place in order to institute such communication protocols in dentistry?
DF: Standards must be established for key interfaces to deliver custom business applications through what appears to the user as a single point of access. And so at 3M, we are actually talking about how we can help influence and create standards to handle, store, share, and transmit imaging and related information with key companies in the dental industry. For example, CT systems (including CBCT systems) have had DICOM imaging standards for nearly 20 years that include a file format definition and a network communications protocol. This means we can take CT scan data from virtually any manufacturer and exchange that information with any system capable of receiving DICOM images and patient data. The same does not yet hold true for intraoral scans or other dental data. For example, we can’t easily transmit image data from the Lava C.O.S. to a radiology department to integrate with CT scan data because there is no imaging standard for impression scans.
IDT: How do you envision dentists, laboratory owners, and patients accessing this virtually stored information?
DF: The new generation of dental patients and dental professionals is increasingly digitally savvy—they manipulate data with smartphones and mobile digital devices, access data seamlessly from the Internet, and purchase products and services from Internet-based e-commerce sites.
We believe the same type of communication technology and protocols enabling digital connectivity, interaction, and access to information will be developed for the dental industry. At the end of the day, these front-end digital processes all lead to an analog application, whether it is a crown, implant, or repair. We want to develop a powerful digital platform that is easy to use and optimum for what our customers are delivering to the patient.
About the Author
David M. Frazee, BS, MS
Digital Systems Technology
3M ESPE Digital Oral Care