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July 2016
Volume 7, Issue 7

May the 4th Be With You

Latest industrial revolution expected to profoundly impact oral care

By Pam Johnson

We are on the verge of entering an uncharted era that theorists and world leaders are terming the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Just as the previous industrial revolutions reshaped how we live and work, the Fourth Industrial Revolution promises to do the same. It signals the natural progression of man’s ingenuity to break down the physical barriers that impinge communication, industrial productivity, and transportation and to embark on a continuous journey fueled by technological advances that promises to further transform how we relate to each other, manufacture our products, and move about the globe.

From the advent of mechanization to replace human muscle power with machines in the 18th century and advances that led to the use of electricity for mass production and communication in the 19th and 20th centuries to the era of computerization and digitalization in the last 50 years, each of these industrial evolutionary steps were characterized by advances in technology. The Fourth Industrial Revolution will be fundamentally differentiated from the previous three by a new generation of far more complex and interconnected technologies that combine and connect the physical, biologic, and digital worlds.

“Today, the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the era of interoperability, is upon us,” says

Stanley Bergman, Chairman of the Board and CEO of Henry Schein, Inc., in a recent interview. “It is the integration of smart, Internet-connected machines and people.” Advances being made in smartphone technology, intelligent robotics, driverless cars, and manufacturing processes built on additive technologies are all signals of a fresh wave of technologies that seamlessly interconnect man and machine.

When did the Fourth Industrial Revolution begin? Bergman cites the introduction of the iPhone in 2007 as the catalyst that ignited the fires of the revolution. “Connecting the world through a mobile device has defined the future of tomorrow,” Bergman says. “With the integration of smart, Internet-connected machines and people, there has been a fundamental shift in how we produce, consume, relate to, and understand one another.”

Impact on Oral Care

Although most industries, as well as our personal lives, will be impacted dramatically by this fusion of technologies that blur the lines between the physical, digital, and biologic spheres, health care in general and oral care in particular may stand to reap the most benefits. Already consumer technologies, such as wearable fitness devices, are collecting detailed data about individuals’ health and fitness, data that some day could be seamlessly imported to a patient’s medical record. In the oral health sector, digital impression devices connect the patient and dentist to the laboratory and the digital file to the laboratory’s CAD and CAM systems. Further expansion of digital impression technology is on the horizon as the industry is in the beginning stages of realizing and understanding how digital files can become a vital risk assessment tool, if used for each dental visit, to record and quantify changes in the condition of a patient’s dentition and gingiva over time and alert to impending oral health issues. But this is just the tip of the connectivity highway potential.

“The Fourth Industrial Revolution will make it possible for us to connect in ways we never imagined,” Bergman says. “We all know about and use the Uber on-demand transportation app made available by interoperability. Imagine something similar with oral health care and how valuable it would be to have an on-demand mobile app to find the nearest dentist with specific qualities desired by consumers who could provide care during a particular timeframe.” The potential for teledentistry, monitoring and advising patients remotely via the Internet, will have a profound impact on the industry. Bergman says that dental professionals can expect these future advances in interoperability, and software for electronic patient records, to reshape how they connect with patients and laboratories in order to provide better patient care. The technology-driven solutions will continue to advance dental practices and change the way patients think about going to the dentist.

“With computerization and digitalization from the third revolution as its foundation, interoperability will change the health care landscape by enhancing preventive care, harnessing the power of big data, and empowering patients, thanks to mobile phone apps, telemedicine, and other digital solutions,” Bergman says.

Challenges and Opportunities

As with any revolutionary change, the fourth industrial era will bring with it challenges and opportunities. The difference between the first three industrial revolutions and the fourth will be the speed at which technological advances and change happen, challenging the ability to stay current. It is estimated that the incredible technological changes experienced in the past 20 years were just the beginning of a digital acceleration that will double and triple, perhaps quadruple, in the next 5 to 10 years.

“While breakthroughs in technology will bring new opportunities, the industry will be faced with challenges as they embrace interoperability,” Bergman says. “To navigate these challenges, companies such as Henry Schein have created open-platform vehicles of connectivity to help practitioners and laboratory technologists to comfortably enter or expand further into the world of digital dentistry.” The entry point and expansion must not be focused on individual technologies or products available on the market today, he explains, but rather centered on helping dental professionals uncover and understand how these digital solutions can best be integrated into the practice and laboratory to enhance the care they provide to patients.

“With the successful integration of new digital technologies into a patient-centric workflow, practices and laboratories will become more efficient, resulting in excellent clinical and technical care for our patients,” he says.

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