As president of Exocad America Inc., Larry Bodony’s job is to stay on the cutting edge of CAD/CAM technology. Bodony says new workflows enabled by digital technology will create better patient outcomes.
Inside Dental Technology (IDT): The digital dental landscape is changing so rapidly. How do you envision this transforming the dental industry in the next 10 years?
Larry Bodony (LB): Transformation like this can’t be measured in years. What the industry is witnessing today is a digital revolution that is impacting all levels of dentistry at a lightning-fast pace. How quickly it will transform the industry is anyone’s guess. I envision an industry that will be much more closely aligned with the medical industry. Dentists will have much better diagnostic tools, such as real-time biological screening devices that can detect systemic illnesses through saliva tests, and will obtain an overall picture of a patient’s health. Next-generation jaw-tracking devices and CBCT-like scan equipment will provide a clearer picture of the patient’s functional oral condition. All this diagnostic information will be fed into powerful, networked clinical databases that can better inform the dentist on diagnostic, treatment planning, and restorative decisions. Manufacturing and delivery of appliances and prosthetics will be more accurate and timely as 3D printers, mills, and other technologies we can’t even conceive of yet will reside both chairside and in the laboratory.
IDT: On any journey, there is a tipping point where those who have stayed on track with the changes move forward and those who haven’t are left behind. Have you seen indicators that dentistry has reached that precipice?
LB: First of all, there will not be any single tipping point but a continuous revolution of different ‘tipping points’ as the industry moves forward. Some have already come and gone, others are here but need momentum to put them over the edge, and still others are in development. Digital impressions, for example, are here today. The next tipping point in dentistry might be when a majority of the impressions in the US are taken digitally. Another would be when most permanent restorations are being produced within one patient visit. However, several challenges need to be overcome before these new technologies and treatment protocols become mainstream.
IDT: How and what should laboratory owners do to prepare themselves and their businesses for the landscape you are envisioning?
LB: In a digitally dominated landscape, knowledge is the best source of competitive advantage. Staying at the forefront of these trends and changes and not being left behind will be critical for the laboratory industry. When, for example, analog impressions stop coming into the laboratory and you have no way to accept and work with a digital impression, your business can no longer compete. You cannot remain static. You must commit yourself to lifelong learning in order to stay ahead of the curve. Make sure that your business has the right people in place with the skills and knowledge of digital technology to navigate through the turbulent times ahead. All successful laboratory owners I know are constantly retraining themselves for the future.
IDT: How do you envision the laboratory integrating into this new landscape?
LB: We see a very distinct delineation of skill sets playing out as we move forward. Dentists and clinicians will focus most of their efforts on managing the patient in the chair, capturing information, and determining the clinical risk, time, and financial constraints of each case. In this phase, the lab is a resource to the dentist, recommending alternatives and supporting the dentist in the decision, and ensuring all the objectives can be met. Material selection, who designed the case, where the case is designed, and chairside, lab, or third-party fabrication are all options that can be applied to meet the patient requirements. Generally, labs can create better designs more economically than clinicians. In other words, we don’t see the best use of clinicians’ time being spent designing and producing the end product. Having the ability to share the work will utilize the skill sets of all involved, resulting in the best-quality patient care at the lowest cost.
IDT: For your vision to become reality, all the digital data you speak of needs a platform that would allow seamless data transmission. How close is dentistry to achieving that?
LB: This same scenario has played out in many other industries where, at first, only a few players control the market and then innovation breaks that stranglehold. On a technical level, data standards for the types of data being used in dentistry exist. Most of the problems reside with business interchange and proprietary closed systems that prevent free data exchange. In other words, digital impression device A can’t talk to software B but can talk to software C. These entrenched players have built powerful encapsulated systems with state-of-the-art features but are not interested in a plug-and-play market because it lowers profits. However, newer players offering competitive products based on open standard data interchange are here. We believe market pressure will win out.