Looking at getting involved in digital dentistry but not sure know where to start? Here Bruce Dean explains where you can get started and what the journey involves.

Dentistry Scotland (DS): Where can a practice start if they’re thinking of digitising their practice?

Bruce Deane (BD): You need to work out what you want to achieve. If it’s simple radiography, then that’s a lot more straightforward. If the digital journey is involving CAD/CAM or digital scanners, there are now a very vast number of systems out there.

I think you need to work out exactly what you want to achieve and then you need to go and find the pieces of software and hardware that will let you get to where you want to be.

I would also say that another prerequisite is to check your IT infrastructure. A lot of the new equipment will require fairly meaty IT hardware.

DS: What are the biggest hurdles practices come across when going digital?

BD: I think at the moment it’s the number of systems that are coming out. People are a bit afraid to purchase an intraoral scanner, for example, in case somebody else brings another scanner out in two months.

The biggest hurdle at the moment is open and closed systems. It’s quite hard to work out who can deliver what. You may want to combine different files with different machines.

There’s lot of discussion around open and closed systems. Their’s also discussions on whether you have a system that you pay an annual support fee for, or do you go down a different route where there’s no annual support. I see lots of social media threads that argue one way then the other.

There’s benefits and negatives to both, whichever direction you choose. But we can always advise based on what the dentist’s needs are.

DS: What are the financial benefits of going digital?

BD: It’s such a hard thing to measure, there’s so many answers and it can all depend on where you’re coming from. If you’ve got a practice with say four surgeries, taking 10 X-rays a day, that’s 40 X-rays. If you go digital the costs you will be saving on film, retaking X-rays, silly things like chemicals burning through outfits will be huge.

DS: Is digital more accurate than traditional methods?

BD: Again, it’s a difficult question to answer. If you buy the correct sensors then your image resolution is higher than wet film.

With intraoral scanners, I think the accuracy debate is now over. I think everybody believes that they’re very accurate. It’s now just justifying the cost.

I would say in general, yes, going digital is a more involved and accurate way of taking impressions. Taking traditional impressions is a nightmare and a thankless task. I’ve seen people sending five impressions and still getting it wrong. Digital definitely helps with preventing retakes.

DS: Is there any way to futureproof a practice by going digital?

BD: You can sit there and say you’ll buy it when ‘something’ happens. If that’s your philosophy, you’ll probably never invest in a system.

The thinking should be that you bite the bullet, you make your investment based on the best research you can do.

A lot of the scanners now are updatable through firmware, so the physical hardware stays the same and it’s the firmware that’s constantly improving. So, in a way, all of the companies are trying to futureproof practices. The end purchase that you make today, as long as you don’t buy something completely inappropriate, you should be looking to get a minimum five to seven-year return on that.

DS: Where is the best place to start when considering going digital?

BD: You’d probably start with an intraoral sensor or a phosphor plate scanning system or maybe an intraoral camera, or even an SLR to take digital photographs. That would probably be phase one.

Phase two would be looking at an OPG or you might want to go 3D and get a scanner at the same time.

It’s a tricky question depending on where you start from. There’re people that will be starting the journey and it will just be a couple of sensors and a phosphor plate and somebody else’s journey will be at the other end of the scale, somebody who has been using intraoral scanners for years and are now investing in a CT scanner.

DS: What do patients think of those practices that invest in digital technology?

BD: There have been global studies to say something around 85% of patients prefer the intraoral scanner through conventional impressions.

If you say to them we’re going to take an impression with an intraoral scanner and they see a 3D image built up, there will absolutely be a wow factor.

DS: What are practices reactions after going digital?

BD: Going to digital impressions, I haven’t known anybody to be unhappy with that at all. There have been people that have tried it and bought it, and it sits in their draw because they’ve not been given the correct training or quite got their head around it. But from the clinician’s point of view, it should be a joyful journey.

It’s imperative that you go to a supplier that you know can train you. With your digital journey into CAD, it has to be from a very trusted provider, who you know can deliver adequate training. Some equipment requires training. That is when you will find clinicians being unhappy – the training element is of huge importance for anyone going on a digital journey.


IW Tech provides specialist IT solutions to dental practices throughout Scotland, including server based network installations, waiting area digital signage/patient information, business telephone systems and cloud backup solutions. For more information visit www.iwtdental.co.uk or
call 0845 200 2219.