14 things dentists should look forward to in 2018

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From advances in materials to new technology, 2018 looks to be a promising year for the dental industry.

The dental field has always been in a state of evolution and growth, and 2018 looks to be a continuation of that tradition. We talked to leaders in the dental world to find out what they expected to be new and exciting in the coming year. Their responses ran the gamut from technology to materials to industry changes.

3D printing

3D printing has been capable, but not necessarily practical, for many dental applications in the past: cost per print, lack of materials and advances in milling were reasons to avoid taking the plunge into additive manufacturing. While advanced milling is still commonplace for same-day crowns and custom implant abutments, 3D printing has taken the lead in automating several otherwise manual dental lab processes, such as surgical guides, night-guards and stone models. Much like any other technology, industrial 3D printers are becoming smaller, and 3D printing manufacturers have since been targeting the dentist-consumer in an attempt to keep more of their lab costs in-house.

“With the continued momentum of 3D printing, we are getting closer and closer to seeing complete and partial dentures and more detailed restorations being created in-office,” says Lou Shuman, DMD, founder and CEO of Cellerant Consulting Group. “With the improved hardware and ever-expanding palette of 3DP materials, the technology is there and soon will be provided to us by the manufacturing community.”

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Automated software using machine learning

In 2018, dentists can look forward to automated software taking over the time-consuming and imperfect science of keeping schedules filled with the right kinds of patients. Launching in 2018, MMG Fusion’s ChairFill will help achieve practice production goals by monitoring available chair time and scheduling pre-selected subsets of patients and procedures. Integrated patient communications and online scheduling allow ChairFill to operate completely independently of staff. The software is capable of monitoring and filling the schedule weeks in advance or detecting and filling last-minute cancellations.

“ChairFill can automatically go in to your patient records, pick out the most profitable dentistry that is available, communicate directly with the patient and schedule the patient, all by itself,” Dr. Shuman explains. “The practice decides how they want to communicate with the patient, by text, by email, or by video, and then they just press a button. By integrating ChairFill into their practice management software, the dentist can see which appointments the software has scheduled as well as how much revenue those appointments generated.”

Aligner market

With the expiration of some patents owned by Align, the increase in clear aligner companies is expected to balloon.

“The aligner market is huge,” Dr. Shuman says. “Obviously, Align has dominated that at about $1 billion in revenue per year, but the market is much bigger than that. With the patents starting to expire in 2018, you can expect the introduction of much more competition in the aligner market. Case in point, the acquisition of ClearCorrect by Straumann.”

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