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An Interview with Michael Collins
Michael Collins, Vice President, Digital Solutions for Zimmer Biomet Dental, discusses the state of digital dentistry
Inside Dental Technology: How would you assess where dentistry is in terms of digitization?
Michael Collins: While many clinicians and laboratories have started to use digital data such as digital x-rays or scans, these technologies are not broadly used across the major global markets nor on all patients. Other technologies, such as CAD/CAM prostheses, intraoral scanning, and digital treatment planning, are still used on only a small percentage of cases—less than 10%, according to some estimates. We are still in the early stages of digital dentistry adoption.
IDT: What key challenges face the industry’s further adoption of digital technologies?
MC: Clinicians and laboratories are still learning how to apply digital technologies in their practices. Due to the pace of technological advancement, choosing the right digital solution for their practice and business can be challenging because as soon as they narrow down their options, a better one may be just around the corner. While digital workflows can appear quite complex, especially when first starting out, the easiest workflows to implement are those that take existing processes and simplify them using digital technology.
Implementing digital workflows, training staff, and communicating with all participants involved—customer, clinician, laboratory and manufacturer—takes a great deal of time and resources. Manufacturers are meeting these challenges head-on by providing better education and technical support, even establishing specialized sales and marketing teams, to make the transition process easier. Partnering with the right company is key to overcoming challenges, avoiding mistakes, and preventing subsequent costly delays.
IDT: What benefits have dental professionals not yet realized regarding digital dentistry?
MC: Due to the limited adoption, most dental professionals have not fully realized the benefits of digital technology in terms of speed and accuracy of communication. The ability to locally acquire a patient’s complete digital anatomy in a matter of minutes and then send that information anywhere in the world to be used as part of a digital workflow, treatment plan, prosthetic design, or component fabrication is incredibly powerful. We can now tap into specialized resources with expertise that can improve fit, function, and esthetics. Because access to these resources is no longer limited geographically, the speed with which we can address complex cases is greatly enhanced through digital workflows.
There are also significant cost savings from properly implementing digital workflows. When a holistic approach is taken to these procedures, one can quickly realize the savings in inventory reduction, staffing, and chair time.
IDT: Certain specific developments, such as the introduction of zirconia, have changed dentistry dramatically in recent years. What are some potential developments in the future that could have that type of impact?
MC: Improvements in dental materials will certainly continue to drive changes in dentistry as these new materials are combined with other technologies to advance dental outcomes. One hot topic in this area is additive manufacturing, or 3D printing. This process is being implemented in many medical device areas, including dentistry, due to the ability to quickly and easily manufacture complex geometries that can be customized to any design. In dentistry, additive manufacturing is being utilized today in areas such as: surgical guides, temporary components and surgical models. Further applications are forthcoming, as advancements in medically approved materials become more readily available.
Another area where we will continue to see improvements is digital scanning. Improvements in the speed, accuracy, and cost of CBCT, intraoral, and laboratory scanners will not only drive adoption but also expand the applications for these technologies.
IDT: As dentistry evolves, what is the role of the laboratory in the future?
MC: Dental laboratories, similarly to clinicians and manufacturers, will continue to evolve and change as technology advances and adoption increases. All three partners must continue to work together to improve outcomes for the patient. The laboratory will be an integral part of the delivery of this improved care. Laboratories that adopt digital technologies will benefit by participating in the total patient solution and differentiate themselves from their non-digital competitors.
Two additional trends support the need for adoption of digital technologies: decreases in the number of trained laboratory technicians and the number of dental laboratories. Digital workflows will help laboratories increase their volume without the need to significantly increase resources. In addition, as further consolidation of dental laboratories continues, the need for clinicians to effectively communicate with laboratories across cities, states, and even countries will necessitate the utilization of digital technology.
The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Zimmer Biomet Dental.