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Communicate, Cooperate, and Collaborate
By Peter Pizzi, CDT, MDT
How closely do today’s technicians and dentists collaboratively work together to achieve the optimal esthetic and functional result for the patient? In the field of dentistry, the word collaboration is best defined as: Dentists and technicians working together and/or jointly in an intellectual endeavor to reach a common goal. However simple the concept sounds, we all probably would agree that the reality of a collaborative relationship among dental team members is mired in complexities. Before exploring how we as technicians can work more effectively with dentists on a daily basis, we need to first examine the history of the collaborative concept, how that concept fit into our past, and how well it fits into our work in the present and future.
In the early days of dentistry, the dentist wore the hat of both dentist and technician. As dentistry evolved and the profession grew, technical assistants began to play a role to assist the dentist in meeting his or her restorative goals. A professional collaborative relationship was thus born through the shared common goal of functionally improving the medical and dental health of the patient while improving the patient’s dental esthetics. During this time in history, many technicians worked collaboratively “in house,” that is, in the dentist’s office. If not on the same premises, the dentist and technical assistant often worked in a rather exclusive professional relationship. Despite the advantages of working so closely together, this early collaborative process was not in any way a perfect union or without its shortcomings. Nonetheless, despite the limitations of the early clinical procedures and restorative techniques and products of the time, a type of collaboration did in fact exist between dentist and technician.
Fast-forward to today and the question becomes what type of collaboration exists now and what can we expect in the future? In looking at the present-day relationship between technician and dentist and the future of dentistry, one must recognize that there have been countless numbers of improvements and advances in the data, research, technology, tools, and state-of-the-art products available to team members. As groundbreaking as these advances are, they have created new opportunities as well as some hurdles and challenges to achieving a true collaborative culture between dentists and technicians. No longer is it general practice for the technician to work with one dentist or in the dental office. Further, the rapid advancements in technology and myriad choices in restorative products and techniques sometimes make a meeting of the minds more difficult. However, now that we have unprecedented digital communication tools at our disposal, it is paramount that we understand the necessity and importance of working together in an interdisciplinary environment to achieve optimal results for the patient.
The key to achieving this synergistic relationship and process is education. I would challenge all technicians to ask themselves how well they fully understand the clinical side of dentistry as it applies to the restorative work they do, and what they are being asked to achieve. Likewise, I would challenge all dentists on how well they understand the technician’s role, including the laboratory procedures involved and the various techniques and products necessary for implementing the desired optimal results. I do not expect technicians to apply to dental school, nor do I expect dentists to be completely knowledgeable and/or involved in the entire technical process. However, to expand the synergy needed to create a successful collaborative process, our understanding of both sides of the dental chair is imperative. Improving the dental health of our patients calls for increasing our knowledge so that as a team we can provide a more informed diagnostic opinion, best manage the risks, and support the final prognosis.
The ability to collaborate means working together in an intellectual dental health-related endeavor with all members of the team. The technical team, the clinical team, and the patient are all necessary components of a successful collaborative culture. The measure of a successful collaborative process is in achieving best-in-class restorative results for the patient.