Taking on technology in the dentist's office
By Jennifer Ireland

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Part of what I love about dentistry is this: There's always something new to learn. As routine as individual procedures can become, there is always a new instrument, gadget, piece of equipment or software technology coming along to shake things up a bit to help us take better care of patients. Taking care of patients is the reason I fell in love with dentistry in the first place. New technology and gadgets is how I fuel the fire.


Do you have trouble with new technology in the dentist's office?
  • 1. Yes
  • 2. No

The flip side of that coin is new information and technology can also be very overwhelming. In my personal life, I am remarkably technology deficient. Sad, but true. It's not that I'm not interested, I'm simply a late adopter. I've always been that way.

I once owned a computer for two whole years that sat in a box because I was unsure of how to hook it up. In my professional life, this has never been the case. Whenever a new "toy" arrives, I get as excited as a kid at Christmas! For example, when the first office I worked in bought a single Dexis digital sensor on a stand-alone laptop, I thought I'd died and gone to radiography heaven. No longer did I have to stand in the dark, teeny-tiny closet with a timer waiting to move my film from developer ... to water ... to fixer ... at exactly the right moment. How could life possibly get any easier?

Since then, I've hit the proverbial jackpot by being fortunate enough to work in an office with the ability to use and evaluate a vast amount of new technology. There's so much technology sometimes, our heads spin. We've learned some tricks for making it all work and still have time to treat the patient.

When it comes to integrating and utilizing high-tech equipment in the dental office, dental assistants are essential. From intra-oral cameras and digital radiography to caries detection units and oral cancer screening devices there are so many amazing tools for communicating with our patients. Try following these tips to help your office successfully implement and utilize new technology.

Training and Support

Once new equipment or technology is set to arrive, organize team training. It's important to have the entire team on board. Every team member from the business staff to the clinicians should understand the capabilities and benefits of use. This helps with marketing the office to new patients, helping patients understand the technology and also with billing codes.

Then, create a superuser. This will be the individual in the office "most responsible" for this particular piece of equipment. The superuser will take advanced training if available and be the go-to person with questions or concerns.

Finally, before training ends, get the name and contact information of the trainer and at least one other individual to call directly for support. More often than not, in the first few weeks of use, questions will come up. This will help get any issues resolved quickly. It also helps to read online and interact with other dental professionals on using the technology in practice, as our peers often know the "real deal" when it comes to implementation challenges in a busy clinical setting.

Familiarity Breeds Friendliness

Take the time to become proficient with the equipment or technology. Learn the fastest way to snap an intra-oral picture or scan a tooth with a caries detector. The more comfortable you are with the equipment, the more receptive patients will be. Dental assistants cannot diagnose, but understanding the findings helps you communicate to the patient what the dentist will be looking for. It also helps you communicate with patients when they ask you questions.

Ready, Set, Go

Have equipment set up, turned on and ready to go prior to seating the patient as much as possible. We all know dental appointments cause anxiety. By having your equipment easily accessible it becomes part of the routine and not something foreign or alarming to your patient.

Take the Initiative

Prepare your patient by taking pictures or readings prior to the dentist coming into the operatory. Let patients know the doctor will discuss the findings with them when he/she arrives. This promotes the efficient use of your time and theirs. It also engages patients in their treatment and is a great practice promoter.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Telling a patient they have an old, leaky amalgam and a lingual crack in their tooth does not always do the trick. We all know if nothing is hurting — or does not hurt enough — most patients will postpone treatment. Show your patient their tooth by taking a picture with an intra-oral camera. This builds trust and encourages acceptance of treatment because it is easy to understand what we can see.

Communicate for Comfort

Patients trust their assistants. Explain the procedure and encourage questions prior to using the equipment. Let them know their oral health is your top priority and your practice has invested in them, itself and you by using high-tech equipment for diagnosis.

Don't be afraid to try something new. New technology and equipment may be overwhelming at first. But it may also become your new best friend.

Jennifer Ireland, CDA, RDA, BS, has 14 years of dental assistant experience and is an active member of the ADAA and MDAA. She currently splits her time between working for The Dental Advisor in training and education, and assisting clinically at Enspire Dental. She enjoys sharing her diverse clinical knowledge and experience with her peers through lectures and workshops.