The Dentist talks to Alastair Smith, the founder of Pallant Orthodontics, about practising digital dentistry.
How long have you been practising digital dentistry, and what first attracted you to the world of digital?
AS: I guess the early transition to digital dentistry happened many years ago with the move away from paper notes to a computerised practice management software system. Then came digital radiography and digital photography. At the time, these felt like big steps in the right direction and had benefits for both patients and the practice. It has really been the last five years that have seen a rapid acceleration in digital technology with the introduction of intraoral scanners, 3D printing, virtual monitoring and digital platforms enabling remote communication between practices and patients. Many of these new technologies help to reduce barriers, make dentistry more pleasant and allow for a more convenient and customised patient journey.
Can every practice benefit from the incorporation of digital technology? Are there advantages for general dental practitioners, even those working on the NHS?
AS: Absolutely! The adoption of new technology is only worth it if it brings a significant improvement in efficiencies and the effectiveness of what we do, whether this is clinical processes or practice management processes. There are many instances where digitisation enhances both of these. In the case of NHS practices, which are under huge pressure to deliver services at volume and low cost, then it makes a lot of sense to leverage technology to enable efficiencies.
Going digital can be intimidating, particularly considering the amount of investment needed. Does going digital have to be an all or nothing decision, and how can one go about ‘dipping their toe’ into digital practice?
AS: I agree, changing any system or process is potentially intimidating. The investment is not only a capital one but also an investment in your time in developing how to integrate it and also training your staff. You also have to invest in how to communicate the new technology to your patients. I don’t believe there is a one-size-fits-all way of doing digital dentistry. What and how you decide to introduce will depend on the type of dentistry you want to do and also the size of your practice. Regarding ‘dipping their toe’ in the water, investing in a decent digital SLR camera, but more importantly, incorporating it into your consultations will massively help with communicating with your patients. Even better, I would advise taking the plunge and investing in an intraoral scanner.
If a dentist is interested in moving digital, what do they need to consider before purchasing any digital equipment or service? How can they make sure they futureproof any investment?
AS: It’s a really good question as technology is advancing so rapidly. I guess, the most important question is asking yourself what outcome you're looking for. Then start researching how the technology will get you to that destination. One has to accept that all technologies have a shelf life, and that time is getting shorter all the time. I would be looking at technology companies that have a great vision and are passionate about their product and service. These companies will continually look to improve their product and ultimately provide you with the best long-term investment.
What do you think has been the best investment in your digital journey?
AS: If I’m to pick an individual item for clinical processes, then undoubtedly then the iTero Element scanner is a central cog in our digital workflow. However, there are multiple moving parts in the digital journey, and all have an important role. To be honest, without wanting to sound clichéd, the best investment is in spending time listening and learning from colleagues, there are some wonderful and very clever people in our profession.
What did you present at the Align Technology’s Orthodontic Summit?
AS: The summit was an exciting opportunity for my peers to gain knowledge about digital tools which can enable them and their staff to treat patients in a better and smarter way, providing them with a more desirable and more convenient offering.
I hope I gave some clarity about how orthodontists can rethink their business and put a strategy into place to embrace this new opportunity to become better clinicians with a stronger patient focus. The tools I presented can help us improve our work environment for everyone’s benefit and that’s quite refreshing given the challenging times we are facing at present.
Consumers have been fast tracked to all kinds of digital platforms and we now have a public acceptance of the benefits of these advances in technology which make increasing sense, from the comfort of their own home. This is a huge opportunity for us to change how we perform orthodontics so that we are addressing these new needs.
How important is it to communicate the benefits of digital dentistry to the wider team, and ensure they are all on board? How did you ‘sell’ digital dentistry to your team?
AS: I’m not an expert in change management but the fundamentals are that people don’t like to feel that things are imposed on them or they have no control. Oftentimes there are certain entrenched ways of doing things and changing habits can be challenging. Clearly, letting staff know how the benefits of new technologies will help both them and the patient is key. Providing staff with comprehensive training and diarising adequate time to learn is essential. Also reassuring them that nobody is going to expect them to become an expert overnight will help to relieve pressure and possible resistance.
Patients are often unaware of the latest developments in dental technology and as such find it difficult to differentiate between practices. How do you go about informing patients of the specific advantages digital dentistry can offer them in a way that they can understand (and appreciate)?
AS: I believe patients are now much more tech-savvy and receptive to new ways of doing things. Clearly, this makes communicating the latest developments much easier. However, there are some new dental technologies, such as remote monitoring, that fundamentally change the way we deliver care. It’s essential the patient can conceptualise the benefits and communicating this effectively is very important. We have found that a great way of conveying these benefits is to communicate in a visual way i.e., in video format. To that end, we have developed a suite of videos. These can be seen at www.pallantmedia.co.uk
If you could go back to the start of your career, is there anything you would have done differently in your move to digital?
AS: Advise myself not to buy so many CDs and move to Spotify earlier!
What excites you about the future of dental practice?
AS: I believe there are exciting times ahead for the dental profession. People are keeping their teeth for longer and increasingly see the value of investing in their dental health and the appearance of their smile. I think the modern patient is more discerning than ever and is looking high-quality dentistry provided with great customer service and in a way that is convenient to them. Expectations are changing and employing new technologies will help to meet them. Exciting times!