The demise of "high-tech" products in the dental office

March 1, 2003
The era of "high-tech" products in the dental office is over. No more will you resource companies and technicians offering the latest high-tech gadgets to the world. Stories of the local dental office getting a quote of $100,000 for computer, phone, and security cabling are a thing of the past.

By Jeff Carter, DDS

The era of "high-tech" products in the dental office is over. No more will you resource companies and technicians offering the latest high-tech gadgets to the world. Stories of the local dental office getting a quote of $100,000 for computer, phone, and security cabling are a thing of the past. The local generic computer hardware supplier building its own "boxes" and then going out of business will not affect you. Whew, that's a relief! How can this be?

What has often occurred in the past with high-tech products in the dental office is the equivalent to this scenario:

Your old air compressor wheezes one last time and then keels over. Needing compressed air to work, you race over to your local hardware superstore. There, you rely on the expertise of an 18-year-old sales associate to recommend the best unit for your situation. The sales associate picks the most expensive unit based on his commission and assumption you are a rich dentist. The delivery van arrives at your office the next day. You lead the delivery driver to your mechanical room and point to the old compressor. "Please remove that one and replace it with the new one. After you connect everything and get it working, can you check the three-way syringe in operatory two?" The incredulous delivery driver shrugs and drops the new air compressor in the middle of your operatory corridor. The driver tells you to call a certified "Gold Level Certified" technician and informs you he "just delivers."

Four days and several thousand dollars in lost production later, a highly-trained technician arrives at your office between 8 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. "Thank goodness you're here! Please connect the unit so we can get back to work." The technician quickly realizes that your existing 20-year-old Air Techniques unit is plumbed into existing PVC. The technician informs you his generic compressor is not really "designed" for a dental office. "I don't care! Just make it work! We have a waiting room full of people!" The technician frowns at you, opens his tool box, and goes to work. Two hours later, the technician informs you the unit is ready. He flips a switch on the top of the compressor because he didn't know how to connect the new unit to the existing quick shut-off panel at your back door. The unit rumbles and sounds odd but compressed air is now available throughout your office. The still frowning technician gathers his tools, sarcastically wishes you good luck, and hurries off to his next appointment.

Stressed beyond normal human limits, you resume working. Your high-speed handpiece performance is different and fluctuates each time you step on the rheostat. The three-way syringe air flow is so forceful it "kicks" like a 44 Magnum upon activation. You and your staff do your best to adapt to the situation.

Three days pass before a loud "pop" startles everyone in the office. Compressed air is no longer available. You and your pumping adrenal glands sprint over to the mechanical room and open the door. A huge wad of duct tape is stuck to the ceiling and a rubber hose attached to the still running air compressor is dancing around like an enraged cobra. You throw your hands up in the air and shout loudly, "My grandfather was right! We should have never stopped using belt-driven handpieces!" Your assistant calls the hardware superstore's emergency repair number. Unsatisfied with your assistant's pleas for help, you grab the phone just as the customer-service representative yells out, "We just sell air compressors! We don't know anything about dentistry!"

We don't know anything about dentistry? As ridiculous as this story is, I am confident this analogy occurs daily in dental offices everywhere. Have you ever been told by a salesman that his company knows everything about computers and computer networks and can handle all your "high-tech" needs? After all, your tiny little dental office is a minor side job compared to the 500-computer network they just installed at the university.

Just as your high-speed and low-speed handpieces, three-way syringe, handpiece lubricator, air-abrasion unit, microetcher, and air polisher are dependent on an air compressor, your practice-management software, clinical software, imaging software, captured camera images, digital radiography, software messaging systems, digital probes, digital bite sensors, patient database, insurance claims processing, supplies ordering, communication with colleagues is dependent on a computer. If an appropriate air compressor is a major and necessary piece of dental equipment in your office, so is a computer. In fact today, more of your office is dependent on a proper functioning computer than an air compressor. Yet on a daily basis, dental offices purchase computers and networking solutions from sources that don't know anything about dentistry!

Dentistry and high-tech are synonymous. If vendors and/or system designers and technicians don't have some understanding and appreciation of the practice of dentistry, they do not know high-tech as it relates to dentistry — period. Do not use them.

Dr. Jeff Carter is co-owner of the Practice Design Group, based in Austin, Texas. PDG specializes in providing architectural, interior design and equipment, and technology integration services to dentists nationwide. Dr. Carter may be reached at (512) 295-2224 or by e-mail at [email protected].

A sampling of great dental products

Practiceworks - Dentrix- Softdent - DenOptix – CAESY and CAESY Enterprise – Image FX – Vipercam – Gendex 770 and 765DC intraoral X-ray units – Samsung 150 MP, LCD monitors – Pentium IV, 2.0+ gHZ processors, 512 MB RAM computers – 64 MB dual head video cards by Matrox and ATI – Photomed digital camera packages with flash diffusers – high-speed Internet service – email – tape backup systems – Windows 2000 and Windows XP – Microsoft Server- virtual private networks – Linksys cable modems – dye sublimation printers – Cat 5e cables...