Inside Dental Technology
Jul/Aug 2012, Volume 3, Issue 7
Published by AEGIS Communications
Adapting through Realistic Change:
A look at the future technologist.
It is late July 2025 and Norman’s 60th birthday is quickly approaching. As he sits at his computer console pondering his life, he asks, “Have I accomplished all I set out to do with this short life of mine?” As always when he asks himself that question, the answer is, “No—not even close.” But looking back on the choices he has made throughout the decades, he feels content.
His attention is drawn back to the large 3D screen in front of him. Dr. Minder, his colleague and team partner from Brussels, will shortly be uploading data on a case they are working on together. This project is particularly complex because it involves bone regeneration in the patient as well as construction of bio-plants that will be exact replicas of the patient’s planned tooth extractions. Then, there is the manufacture of the patient-specific implant root systems treated with a molecular crystal, pre-emulsion, phase-separated polymers, and hydroxy-apatite bio-caps—all created with the patient’s stem cells.
The data is coming in now. A selection of 3D cone-beam scans of the patient’s hard and soft tissue stream onto the screen followed by a full-facial scan animation. More scans replicating the patient’s facial and lip positions as well as other soft-tissue landmarks important to the case—sinus locations, nerve, and blood vessels—download onto Norman’s screen. He studies the 3D scans, rotating each with a virtual screen touch. He waits patiently for Dr. Minder to appear on screen to discuss the case.
“As digital artisans and technologists trained in functional morphology and color, we need to look at all our material options based on the patient-specific physics and dynamics to select the appropriate strength for the final restorations,” Norman thinks to himself as he uploads the files to his CAD program for the specialized guidance of the patient-specific design parameters.
“Once we have the information loaded and make all appropriate decisions on the correct course determined by the physics simulator, we will then need to discuss the manufacturing stage of the appliance,” reasons Norman. “It is now 9:30 a.m., we should be able to wrap this up in an hour or so.”
A Curious Journey into the Future
It is a curious journey as one attempts to define an occupational view of the future. Wavering precipitously between science fiction and fact, between the unconventional and reality, we can only imagine what tomorrow may bring to our profession. Fantasy perhaps, boundless imagination to the imaginable, tomorrow’s reality can be an inexhaustible probability of things once thought impossible or inconceivable, and equally miraculous. Even though we are limited by the reality of the near future of tomorrow and of things that are already within our grasp, the destiny of the dental laboratory will be as case consultant and facilitator, where the beginning of a case starts with the end result.
The future technologist will consult with all individuals involved in a case, starting with the patient—a virtual patient. But wait, we need to back up a few steps in our futuristic journey. Let’s start with a computer and a user. Envisioning tomorrow’s treatment protocols, the computer will be the conduit by which a company of designers, dentists, specialists, assistants, and technicians can instantly coordinate billions of data points of accurate information and patient communications, sharing their expertise via a cloud of virtual servers. Patient history, proposed treatment, and prediction of treatment outcome can all be assessed by the simple means of exquisite software and elaborate printers.
This new era of dentistry embraces a communal collection of thought, knowledge, and foresight. Gone are the silos that kept the dental team members apart. This new evolution of the profession recognizes and celebrates the knowledge each team member has to offer because the complexity of even the simplest case now is too complex for any one individual on the team to go it alone.
This new era of dentistry also understands the connection between oral disease and systemic disease. The dental team is recognized as a first responder when it comes to patient health and is intimately involved with overall patient wellness, virtually consulting with sophisticated medical personnel when necessary and using orally implanted nano-technology sensors to assess current and impending health risks.
In tomorrow’s dental practice, the intraoral impression scanner has progressed from its current familiarity to a device that also captures a 3D animated and layered full scan of the face in living color so that treatment by the team can take into consideration skin tone and eye color as well as tooth and tissue shades. This 3D representation of the patient is one that can smile and frown, speak all of the vowel sounds, and open and close lips. Underlying the full-face scan will be a photographic layer of the patient’s bone structure, complete with all the landmarks essential for treatment-option decision-making.
All team members will be able to view all aspects of the scans that materialize on their 3D computer screens, much like a movie, as the 3D scans stream in, register with each other, and assemble. Once assembled, they can be dissected and reassembled, virtually rotated and turned 360° as each team member studies his or her particular area of expertise. Within these layers of patient information, a retractable, virtual articulator tests the restorative prosthesis designed by the technician.
Perhaps far, far into the future, a device in the practice will even teleport a copy of the patient to individual team members for a more human/non-human examination.
Back to Reality
While it is impossible for most people to foresee the future, it is not impossible to look at trends and make an educated guess on where the current direction may lead us.
In the business of dental technology, the only requirement is to produce restorations in a timely and consistent manner. Because no two humans are exactly alike, large operations are challenged to ensure the consistency of the large volumes of restorations they produce while maintaining a rigorous production schedule. When digital technologies were first introduced in the late 1990s, the promise was that these machines would create more consistency from restoration to restoration in a more efficient manner to achieve that requirement. On the flip side of our industry, there is another important segment that exists—the small boutique laboratory. These men and women laser focus on the artistry, replicating the intricacies of nature to fulfill the demands of the highly discriminating client.
It is a popular belief that advanced computer technology is only applicable to the mass market and that it holds no place in the hands of the discrim-
inating artisan. This, of course, could not be further from the truth.
Perhaps we are not looking at this enormous change that faces us in the right frame of mind. It is natural for those being impacted by technology to feel no longer in control of their own destiny, and that somehow technology will dictate where an industry is headed. However, in the end, it will be those humans who take advantage of what technology has to offer, who exploit technology rather than be exploited by it, who will be the ones in control of where the industry is heading. We all are capable of making the choice to take a realistic approach to what is truly possible when choosing to incorporate technology. After all, humans make the decisions, not the machines.
The imagery accompanying this article was rendered entirely with a specialized version of CAD software that was created for design, visualization, and animation. Virtually, nothing in this image is real but rather is imagined and designed to create an architectural vision of what the future could hold. Humans have been doing this for millennia. From painting on cave walls and sculpting granite statues, to committing oil to canvas with the purpose of communicating an idea of human expression or a vision, or to simply tell a story—these are all living records of history; and all require a unique set of skills and knowledge to achieve success.
Take comfort in knowing nothing has really changed. Only the tools we incorporate have changed, and they could not exist had it not been for human imagination, creativity, and necessity. The world is always in a state of flux. We are forever adapting to new and exciting ways of creating things, usually because we gain great advantages by adopting new technological breakthroughs. Throughout history, the path to the future has been imprinted with the invention of modern conveniences driven by a core desire to simplify life and a relentless quest to conquer wasted time. Each new invention, in turn, fires the demand for even greater innovation. Will new technology continue to force us to transform? In the name of progress, it must. As history has proven, change and progress are a constant.
Michael Gorshe is the owner of MG Artology in Traverse City, Michigan