Leveraging Today’s Technology: A Smart and Rewarding Way to Boost Profits
Matthew Krieger, DMD
Over the past two decades the business of dentistry has seen many dramatic changes. Increased overhead costs, reduced fees from insurance companies, competition from dental service organizations (DSOs) and corporate dentistry, along with a new generation of price-driven consumers have all contributed to an environment that makes it significantly challenging to maintain and increase profitability.
In my 20-year career as a private practitioner and practice management consultant, I have learned that building and establishing a successful practice doesn't necessarily mean having to open more operatories or a second or third office. In today's environment, to gain a competitive edge a dental practice needs to do more than just incorporate traditional profit-improvement strategies. Increasing prices, ie, fee-for-service dentistry, and reducing the cost of goods sold, ie, lowering variable overhead costs such as supplies and laboratory fees, will improve profit to a point, but there are limits to how much money a practice can save.
Creating a profitable practice can be more fully realized through leveraging contemporary technology and understanding how it can be utilized to increase production. This is where CAD/CAM dentistry-with an emphasis on efficient clinical and administrative integration of single-visit treatment-comes into play.
I invested in a CAD/CAM system more than 15 years ago as a way to reduce the cost of goods sold in a more significant, impactful way. CAD/CAM enables increased profit through better integration of the production process for indirect restorations. However, there is more to it than that. When used optimally, CAD/CAM technology allows providers to design and fabricate inlays, onlays, crowns, bridges, and implant restorations during a single dental appointment. This vertical integration reduces costs in several ways: It eliminates lab expenses, lowers material costs (removing the need for temporary restorations and impressions), and streamlines the number of appointments (ie, no second visit for delivery and cementation). Moreover, converting composite restorations to inlays and onlays provides an alternative, high-quality treatment option for the patient and is potentially highly profitable to the business.
In addition to increasing profit through reducing costs, CAD/CAM can help improve case acceptance rates due to its patient-friendly nature. Multiple visits for dental treatment can be costly for a patient in terms of time off from work, time away from personal/family obligations, and so on. CAD/CAM technology can reduce the number of appointments required for treatment and, in turn, encourage patients to accept treatment plans.
Additionally, I have found that many patients who have experienced uncomfortable, bad-tasting impressions or have had temporaries fall out at inopportune times and needed multiple dental appointments to complete their procedure appreciate the convenience of a single-visit crown. Moreover, they typically are impressed with the new, modern, and efficient dentistry they receive. They frequently enjoy watching their restoration being digitally designed and then milled from a block of porcelain and custom colored to match their teeth. In essence, CAD/CAM can serve as an effective marketing tool, as patients often are eager to share their new experience with friends and family. Having a new patient present to the office with a broken tooth and leave 90 minutes later with a new crown can be a powerful "advertising" tool.
Another means of increasing profitability in a dental practice is to add new procedures with high profit margins, such as implants. Although learning about dental implants and incorporating them into practice can be an intimidating prospect for many general practitioners (GPs), CBCT imaging and advanced software have made implant treatment planning increasingly user-friendly and mainstream. Using today's technology along with proper training can allow GPs to offer patients implant treatment as a predictable and safe procedure. Modern imaging and software systems enable precise evaluation of dental and osseous structures, helping reduce the risk of complications. Surgical stents can be fabricated easily from 3D images, making the placement of implants more predictable.
CBCT technology not only can facilitate clinical success, but, with practice and experience, can significantly reduce the chairtime necessary for implant placement. With thorough treatment planning and the incorporation of surgical guides, the placement of a single dental implant can be highly predictable, very rewarding, and quite profitable. An integrated digital implant workflow can help GPs grow their implant offerings, allowing them to incorporate higher-fee procedures and shorter appointments while lowering overhead.
From lower cost of goods sold, to increased case acceptance, to marketing benefits and higher-fee procedures, the leveraging of technology is an important aspect of a successful dental business strategy.