Why digitalisation in dentistry is now even more important than ever
LONDON, UK: During the COVID-19 pandemic, Align Technology worked with a number of key opinion leaders with a view to exploring best practice strategies for returning to dental practice, helping dental professionals thrive in a new environment and turning unprecedented challenges into potential opportunities. A key enabler was found to be the adoption of a digital dental solution.
This leads to alternative ways to diagnose, improved workflows, communication and patient care. Safer procedures and improved staff protection are possible, whereas the number of patient visits can be kept as low as possible. Critically, it was agreed that this approach is achievable even in the most challenging times such as those being experienced at present. Sustainable business growth can be achieved while following local guidelines.
These thoughts are mirrored in new research published on the impact of COVID-19 and recovery analysis. According to Research Reports World, the global use of intra-oral scanners—already growing at a steady rate in 2020—is anticipated, post-COVID-19, to rise at a considerable rate between 2020 and 2025.1
Many dentists agree that the implementation of a digital workflow with an intra-oral scanner—such as Align Technology’s iTero Element intra-oral scanner—at its hub will make the post-COVID-19 environment far less challenging and will play a major role in accelerating practice recovery. A reason for this is the facilitation of better communication with patients and laboratories. The taking of traditional impressions is now considered questionable, as impression taking can be carried out faster and more accurately digitally. This eliminates the need to ask a patient to come into the clinic often. The business benefit of embracing digital dentistry is that it is a powerful new patient conversion tool, which also becomes a revenue builder for the practice. Digitalisation is now more pertinent than ever in order for the dentist to avoid being left behind. Without it, patients are deprived of what is considered to be best practice.
Using digital tools in order to increase patient safety and control cross-contamination will be a top priority for patient and staff protection in the post-COVID-19 era. A number of dentists have pointed out that the design of the iTero intra-oral scanner and the single-use sleeve makes cleaning and disinfection procedures simple and efficient. Scanning the patient with an intra-oral scanner can help to closely monitor his or her condition and the progress of his or her treatment remotely, whereas real-time visualisation on screen helps with patient engagement and treatment acceptance. It is possible to work on the patient’s personalised treatment plan by referring to his or her records through the MyiTero.com digital platform. For the patient, this means minimised chair time and fewer appointments, whereas his or her digital treatment files can be emailed directly and followed by a phone or email conversation. It is then possible to share these directly with the laboratory, which not only saves time, but also avoids cross-contamination through touchpoints.
“The power of visualisation for the consumer is one of the most important things we can do for our patients”
— Dr David Galler, president of the American Academy of Clear Aligners
Digitalisation as a business enabler
Dr David Galler, from New York in the US, underlines that digitalisation is also a business enabler, as it increases patient engagement and helps with treatment uptake. He says: “The power of visualisation for the consumer is one of the most important things we can do for our patients. In 90 seconds, a patient can visualise how amazing their teeth can look.”
Two UK dentists, Dr Marcos White, from Huddersfield, and Dr Mark Hughes, from London, share the same enthusiasm about the business scope of the iTero intra-oral scanner. For White, the COVID-19 situation has reinforced how important digital dentistry has become. He says: “Digital always wins in so many key areas of the practice. From communication to efficiency, compliance, storage, reducing infection risk, upskilling staff and practice profitability, digital is the proven pathway.” Hughes agrees and says: “Align Technology says that 60% of patients proceed with treatment after they see the simulation visualisation tool on their iTero scanner; that’s a powerful conversion rate to treatment.”1
Improved practice efficiency and profitability through digitalisation
Dr Sandra Tai, from Vancouver in Canada, uses digital technology for diagnosis, treatment planning, simulating the treatment outcome, tracking changes over time and assessing how patients’ treatments are progressing. She has observed a surge in interest in intra-oral scanning as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only does it minimise the chair time needed, but the virtual sending of scans eliminates the need to disinfect and ship impressions; any broken retainers can just be reordered using past scans. According to Tai, remote treatment monitoring through Invisalign Virtual Consult and the My Invisalign app, as well as virtual appointments and digital treatment plans, will all become part of the post-pandemic way, improving practice efficiency and profitability.
Dr Mark Cronshaw, from the Isle of Wight in the UK, says: “Using technology such as the iTero system totally transforms the way I can work and also meets the needs of post-COVID-19, reducing the number of times patients have to come in. It provides a very efficient business model. It is a way of growing the business by both reducing footfall and increasing profitability by promoting the wider range of services that we can now offer because of it.”
Cronshaw’s comments echo a 2019 study, “Acquisition of iTero Element intra-oral scanners: Three-year examination of practice volume changes and economic impact”, which corroborates the possibility of improving profitability through digitalisation.2
Evidence like this from an increasing number of leading dental professionals shows that today, more than ever, the successful dental practice—and one more likely to thrive in the post-COVID-19 era—is the one that puts digital workflows front and centre, embracing digitalisation and transforming the delivery and experience of dental treatment and the way dentists work with their patients and laboratories.
1 Based on a July 2018 survey of 101 orthodontists and general dentists from the US, Canada and the UK (60 general dentists and 41 orthodontists) who had used the Invisalign Outcome Simulator in the preceding year and were asked: “For the patients who were presented the option of Invisalign treatment in the past 12 months, and for whom you have used the Invisalign Outcome Simulator, what percentage of these patients started Invisalign treatment?”
2 The findings highlighted that practitioners saw that their initial financial investment in the scanner had led to a return on investment within the first year of use. When projected across the first 36 months after the introduction of the scanner to an orthodontic practice, this amounted to a volume lift of 59% and translated to an estimated US$325,765 (€273,609) increase in gross receipts over three years. This was based on a July 2018 survey of 60 general dentists from the US, Canada and the UK who had used the Invisalign Outcome Simulator in the preceding year and were asked to compare the percentage of patients that started Invisalign treatment in their practices after having been shown the Invisalign Outcome Simulator with the percentage of patients that had not been shown a simulation.