There is hardly an area of life that has not yet been affected by far-reaching technical change in recent years: "Digitalisation" is on everybody's mind and, of course, dentists and dental technicians and their day-to-day practice have not been left untouched. In the current digital age, a solid computer-aided design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM) system is essential for cost-conscious and customer-centric dental practices.
The following interview looks at the opportunities and challenges of digital dentures based on the experience of Michael Wiernek, a prosthetist from Denmark with more than 20 years of experience.
A personal yet holistic view of digital dentures and digital transformation in dentistry by Michael Wiernek
Generally speaking, digital transformation has reached the dental industry and will continue to disrupt it and change dental treatment processes. According to Wiernek, the process of digitalisation in dentistry can and will pick up speed significantly as more and more interest in digital treatment processes is shown by dentists.
"Going digital allows me to improve all aspects of the patient treatment: My aim is to offer my patients the highest quality of products possible and to guarantee a pleasant, comfortable treatment procedure," he said. "An additional bonus is that the number of follow-up treatments drops significantly, as the products are much more accurate than ever before."
From Wiernek's point of view, analog denture treatments show advantages and disadvantages in comparison with digital denture workflows. In the analog treatment and manufacturing process, it is difficult to register the smallest details and take them into account in the design. Therefore, it is not easy to maintain consistent quality.
Often, multiple impressions and dentures have to be made and the patient has to come to the practice for multiple fittings. Digitalisation has significantly reduced the steps as well as the time involved and therefore offers clients treatments that are state-of-the-art and provide superior customer satisfaction. Wiernek himself states that a main argument for using digital dentures is their high manufacturing quality and precision.
"In the past, when relying on analog treatments you just hoped that the prosthesis would fit when it was ready. Today, I don't have to hope anymore, since I know that it's going to be perfect! And it's like that every day. I can predict that every denture will fit. Thanks to digital dentures, I always end up delivering the best quality, state-of-the-art treatments and consequently satisfying my customers entirely."
Product, production and treatment insight: How digital should a denture be?
A digital denturist through and through, Wiernek is convinced that analog prosthetics will fade into the background in the future. Significantly improved software, increased flexibility and processing speed as well as better manufacturing tools support the digital transformation process in dentistry. But it doesn't mean the end of dental technicians specialising in denture fabrication. Indeed, it is a chance to extend their expertise to a digital platform. We talked to Michael Wiernek and he gave us a very personal insight into his new digital work experience.
When and why did you decide to take this step into digitalisation?
Back in 2017, I was in Liechtenstein visiting the headquarters of Ivoclar. This was the first time I really experienced what digitalisation could look like in the dental industry. When I experienced the new technology, I thought that this is how I wanted to work in the future. I then attended a small event at 3Shape in Copenhagen in January 2018, where the new scanner was presented. They told us that everything is set for digital dentures from now on. Two days later, I took the chance to do something different from what my colleagues were doing by entering a new era of dentistry. In March 2018, I bought the scanner, the software and a computer and I have been using them ever since.
Do you only work digitally or with conventional dentures?
We work only digitally; never with conventional dentures. I consider us to be an almost all digital laboratory. My colleagues and I were one of the first dental technician teams in Scandinavia to use digital dentures. As a result, we have created a laboratory that almost entirely eliminates the need for gypsum for producing dentures. With the digital denture method, we have reduced 10 hours of lab work to approximately 1.5 hours. At the beginning, we couldn't believe it ourselves, but it's true.
Did you go through a big learning process or was it easy and intuitive for you?
For me, going digital has been a unique yet tough journey, which I started in March 2018. The following 6 months involved truly hard work because no one (in Denmark) knew how to do it. After the summer of 2018, I had acquired a lot of know-how, but still I couldn't do everything I wanted to. So, I went outside Denmark (US, Holland and Germany) to network and exchange knowledge with experts in the field. It took me many evenings and nights trying to figure things out at home, but after a year I fully committed to it and it paid off. I know almost everything about digital dentures now and even when I don't, I always find a way to make it work.
In 2018, my colleagues told me, Michael, you're crazy. What are you doing? It will be the end of your business if you do everything with a digital denture system. I told them to be patient, to wait and see. Now I can tell them that digital dentures help you to improve patient care, treatment quality and efficiency and that is the truth.
What convinced you to manufacture your dentures with Ivoclar Ivotion?
For me, the most convincing argument was the fact that with Ivotion you have a full denture plate in one, which no one else is able to provide. In addition, speed is an enormous advantage, since you don't have to glue the denture base and teeth together. The biggest difference between a conventional denture and a digital denture in my opinion is that I can significantly reduce patient visits by working with Ivotion. We can cut them down from 5-6 visits to 2-3 visits per denture and we're fully done with satisfied and smiling patients.
How were your first experiences with Ivotion in your everyday work?
After having gained a deep understanding of the digital process and its steps, it was quite easy to design a denture with Ivotion.
In addition to saving a lot of working time, this method may also help you to lower costs in the future. It was a great experience for me to be the first in Scandinavia to work with Ivotion.
When we created the first denture with Ivotion, I had this unique moment: I couldn't believe it, but we had a full denture in about an hour and a half. Not only did it fit perfectly, but it also had great aesthetic appeal for the patient. I was overwhelmed - as this was a real breakthrough for the industry."
How did the clinical and manufacturing process change
Patients have become much more relaxed since I can assure them that the result will fit them perfectly. I have also been able to take away the fear of patients who were anxious about dental interventions. The finished product simply fits better than in the past.
The feedback is great because they only have to attend one or two appointments before the denture fits. The patients are much more satisfied than in the past. With Ivotion, they no longer have the same pain level as with the conventional method, since it is not only much better and faster, but also fits them perfectly. In addition, the reproducibility of the created prosthesis is simple and straightforward. Digital dentures are an absolute win from the patient's point of view.
Return on investment?
In the beginning, I started by using the scanner and the 3Shape dental system. At a very early stage, I also decided to only implement and follow the respective Ivoclar Digital Denture workflow and go step-by-step. So, seven months later I made the next move and got the lab scanner and then the 3D printer.
When it comes to the PrograMill PM7, I thought about it for two years, because of the high investment amount. However, I knew I couldn't resist due to the fact that the PM7 is a very capacious mill for a high productivity. If I'm investing in something new, I'm going to go with the best. I knew that in the long run I would invest in the PM7 anyway, knowing that if I wanted to hire more denturists or increase my production, the PM7 would be the right one. I have never regretted it, as for me it is the best available machine. And it pays off.
The future of digital dentures
Dental treatments in the future will reflect your dentistry standards. It will become normal for dentists to work with digital dentures and patients will also increasingly ask for them in the future. Digital dentures will help you to create a positive emotional relationship with your patients. They will be enthusiastic about the method, as they will be even more involved in the process and able to follow the procedure themselves. Going digital will ensure and secure your dental business in the near and distant future.
If you ask me, if I can recommend the Ivotion system, my answer is clear: Always. And I do recommend it to my colleagues all the time. Of course, it is an expensive system to invest in, but if you want to do high-end dentures, then the only way is to go digital. But it is not only about the quality: I would say if you do not invest in digital dentures now, you may have to close your business in the future."
About Michael Wiernek
Michael Wiernek is a denturist with over 22 years experience. He is the CEO and founder of Tandprotetikeren Aarhus and currently employs 6 people in Denmark. He is the first in Scandinavia to work completely with digital dentures. To improve the digital denture workflow, he works in collaboration with 3Shape and Ivoclar. He also educates lab technicians and denturists to go digital in Scandinavia.