For the last decade, it has been clear that “software is eating the world”. Virtually every major industry has shifted to digital, being run on software and delivered as online services. Yet, for a long time it has seemed as if dentistry was resisting the gravitational pull of the shift to digital. Regardless of the technological advancements, the evidence of how the workflows of dental practices have been transformed by the shift to digital; and the sheer potential of digital dentistry, practices have largely remained un-digitised. The tools for digital dentistry have existed for many years without dentists taking them up. Yet, the pandemic has brought about more change in dentistry than a decade of technological change. It seems that digital dentistry has finally started to go mainstream.
The story of why so many practices have not digitised, is not a story of stuffy, conservative dentists resisting a clearly superior way of doing things. Rather, it is a story of switching costs. The costs of switching to digital are such that for many dentists, the value gained did not seem to justify the costs. Dental practices needed to be certain that going digital would improve revenues, workflows, clinical outcomes, and the patient experience. The costs were clear; time and money spent on training; potential inconvenience of having to upgrade software or deal with engineer callouts; the risk of investing in software that would be surpassed by something new; and the raw price of getting the necessary software. Where the risks and costs were so clear but the value gained uncertain, dentists were justified in holding off.
The pandemic forced the world into one gigantic experiment, in which survival depended on a successful transition to digital practices. Dentists were forced into this shift to digital. There was no other way to survive. It is in this period that digital dentistry became mainstream. The benefits have been enormous.
Dentists have enjoyed the benefits of digital imaging technology, which has enhanced imaging, giving dentists greater insights, supporting better diagnoses, helping with treatment plans and patient compliance.
Workflows have been faster, and smoother without compromising results. Dental offices have been able to do more work in less time at a time when post-pandemic scheduling guidelines have led to longer appointments and few patients seen each day.
The shift to digital has led to many knowledge workers working remotely. Remote work involves a lot of face time on video conferencing platforms such as Zoom, and this has led to many people noticing flaws in their smiles and wanting to do something about it. This “Zoom effect” has led to a boom in demand for cosmetic dental procedures and cosmetic dental products such as Invisalign invisable braces. Smile simulation technology has been used to show patients what their smile makeover will look like under their dentist’s guidance. This creates greater harmony between the dentist’s promise and treatment plan and the patient’s expectations.
We are still earling in the innings and there is a lot more that digital dentistry has to offer dental practices.