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The emergence of the Fourth Industrial Revolution in dentistry

April 25, 2018
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is transforming industries and marketplaces, and dentistry is no exception. In this article, Travis Harrison looks at the digital technologies creating "smart factories" inside dental offices, including cloud computing, 3-D printing, and data analysis. It's all a part of Dentistry 4.0.

Digital dentistry, Dentistry 4.0, or whatever you want to call it…it’s happening!

As we begin to shift into the Fourth Industrial Revolution, there are some basics you need to know. First of all, one must understand that the Fourth Industrial Revolution, also known asIndustry 4.0, is all about digital information translation. Industry 4.0 includes cyber-physical systems, the internet of things, cloud computing, and cognitive computing. (1) These key elements can be connected in a multitude of ways for manufacturing purposes. When connected, they make up what are know as "smart factories." These data-driven smart factories are transforming industrial production across the board.

In dentistry, Industry 4.0 translates into the digitalization of the entire dental industry. This includes electronic medical records and digital patient records for sharing. It also includes diagnostic information (3-D imaging, intraoral scans, optical scans, etc.) and treatment plan workups. The digitalization movement is being tagged as digital dentistry or Dentistry 4.0.

That said, we must understand thatDentistry 4.0 will be very different from the dental industry we have seen in the past. The information sharing of patient health records and diagnostics will provide better care for all dental treatments by allowing for customized patient delivery options with localized in-house production capabilities. Best of all, thanks to the highly automated processes and digitized workflows being employed, this new connected dental world will provide the benefits of improved oral health care at a much lower costs than patients are seeing today.

The current state of the dental industry

To be blunt, dentistry today is outright expensive. Even worse is that it is unattainable by many—regardless of insurance coverage. There are many reasons why costs are so high, but they are directly associated with the increased start-up costs of opening and operating a dental practice.

When we think about overhead, most of us think about the building, lights, chairs, etc., but one of the operational costs that is not always factored in is the cost of fabricating and delivering appliances to patients. We are not just talking about a lab bill here, but rather the cost of the dentist's time, staff time, patient time, lab time, logistics time, try-in time, refit time, more staff time, more lab time, more patient time, more dentist’s just time, time, time. And we all know that time is money.

Getting to lower costs

A critical driving force for new and disruptive technologies is the discovery of business efficiencies that could not otherwise be obtained without the technologies. It should be noted that dentistry and technology go together very well. Examples include advances in dental anaesthetics (which took dental practices out of the medieval era), the improvement of preventive dentistry, and the x-ray evolution that ushered in Dentistry 3.0. Now with advances in cloud-based computing, imaging, data manipulation, and localized 3-D printing solutions at relatively low costs, the dental industry is being revolutionized at an incredible pace.

Dentistry 4.0 lowers the cost of the most complicated dental procedures by employing cutting-edge technologies locally. Using digital technology, a clinic can reduce lab costs for certain appliances by more than 70% when compared to conventional methods. One reason for this lower cost is the ability to create and implement custom dental restorations in a single visit thanks to fully digitized workflows. From data acquisition (scanning), to data manipulation (planning), to in-house dental lab production (3-D printing), to treatment delivery, everything is customized and fabricated locally in the dental version of the smart factory.

As dental smart factories become more automated, there is the potential for lower costs for patients. There is also the potential for making high quality dental treatments available to more people—regardless of geographic location.

The takeaway

Dentistry 4.0brings many advantages to a much bigger and more integrated network of providers and patients. The result is improvment to everyday life. The beginning signs of advancement we see today are only a glimpse of what’s to come.

Knowing what Industry 4.0 is and how it is transforming production, I recommend taking a deeper look at what's going on around you then ask yourself, "How can I take advantage of Industry 4.0 within dentistry?”

Travis Harrison, CDT, CRT brings more than 25 years of maxillofacial imaging, product development, and clinical production experience to his creations. With knowledge of CAD software, subtractive CNC milling, 3-D printing (FDM, SLA, DLP, SLS) and additional 3-D technologies, Travis serves the public as both an advanced imaging technologies and 3-D printing production consultant. He may be contacted reached at [email protected].

Editor's note: This article first appeared in the Apex360 e-newsletter. Apex360 is a DentistryIQ partner publication for dental practitioners and members of the dental industry. Its goal is to provide timely dental information and present it in meaningful context, empowering those in the dental space to make better business decisions.

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