Inside Dental Technology
An Interview with Roddy MacLeod
Inside Dental Technology (IDT): Looking at the dental landscape, how quickly do you see dentistry moving toward a digital future?
Roddy MacLeod (RM): No doubt there is still much work to be done to move dentistry forward more fully to a digital platform, but I think we are at a point where there is no turning back. Dentists have become accustomed to entering patient data into practice management software and submitting insurance claims, billing, and generating patient recall electronically. They also use digitally captured patient information for diagnostics, patient education, and case acceptance, as well as treatment planning. The next natural progression in digitizing the practice is electronically capturing the oral environment through digital impressioning.
Due to improved economics for the laboratory, especially full-contour, model-free cases, it is the laboratory driving the adoption of digital impression technology in the practice. For those laboratories invested in technology, there are huge financial and efficiency advantages to receiving digital patient data from the operatory, and they are at the forefront in educating their clients and promoting digital impression technology. To further speed the adoption rate, Sirona eliminated the scan fees associated with our Bluecam AC digital impression device, which has resulted in dramatic growth of the technology in the dental practice. Now there is an economic win for both the laboratory and the dentists who participate with digital impressions so now we are seeing the traffic of digital impression data double every 5 months.
IDT: How close is the industry to accepting the concept of modeless dentistry, which is another step toward full digitization?
RM: We are seeing a steady move away from the physical model to a virtual model for single-unit and three-unit bridge restorations. CAD/CAM technology has matured to the point that checking the accuracy of a milled full-contour restoration on a physical model is no longer necessary. Generating a crown or bridge using CAD/CAM technology eliminates the potential for error inherent in conventional fabrication processes and offers the laboratory and practice an enormous incentive through cost savings. Combining modeless dentistry with milled full-contour restorations gives laboratories products that are competitive with big high-production operations and offshore pricing. If you can cut the cost of your bread-and-butter cases in half, you are revolutionizing your business.
IDT: What opportunities do you see for laboratory owners who invest in digital technologies?
RM: We have to stop thinking of the dental technology industry in conventional terms. As the fundamental business changes, what you do every day changes. Today, there is so much opportunity to build business models that were impossible just 10 years ago. For digital laboratories, I see the advantages of establishing a concierge service within the laboratory to handle remote clients and provide them with that intimate one-on-one chairside service using the latest communication technologies. This industry is still a very intense relationship business. For example, the ability to consult with a client who is doing a large anterior case in real-time while the patient is in the chair is an invaluable service that helps cement the relationship.
We have one laboratory owner who has broken convention and now flies around the country consulting with his clients on large full-arch cases. He either mills and final finishes the restorations in-office or designs the case at the practice and sends the digital files to his five-person laboratory for production.
I think there is also a missed opportunity in the turn-around business. You could receive a digital file from the practice, design the case in less than 2 minutes, mill it in 8 minutes, fire it once or twice, and get it out the door in an hour—what client would not welcome that service? Automating time-consuming processes and helping laboratory owners save time in the fabrication process is a primary goal in further refining our technology. To that end, we introduced our inLab Biogeneric software last year to automate the virtual design process through pattern recognition technology. If the clinician digitally captures tooth No. 4 and tooth No. 2, the software intuitively knows and proposes the shape, form, and function of tooth No. 3, independent of the skills of the operator and in complete harmony with the dentition of the patient. Now it takes far less time to make that CAD proposal to fit the oral environment.
I also see opportunities for laboratories to utilize CAD/CAM technology to create new types of services for their clients. For example, not all dentists with chairside milling technology want to spend their valuable time designing restorations from scanned data. If the dentist doesn’t have a staff member who can perform that function, it provides a great opportunity for a laboratory to serve as the design center. The dentist would upload the digitally captured case to the laboratory, which would design the case and send it back to the chairside milling unit. The laboratory charges $25 for a service that takes less than 4 minutes of work to complete. The beauty of digital files is that it makes no difference whether the scans originate stateside or abroad. If you are looking at the future and how best to take advantage of these new technological developments, it is only limited by your creativity.
About the Interviewee
Roddy MacLeod is the vice president of CAD/CAM at Sirona USA in Charlotte, North Carolina. He was formerly the director of marketing for CEREC in the US, and started with Sirona in 2003 as the product manager for CEREC Software in Bensheim, Germany.