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Digital Dentistry Curriculum Provides Students With Skills to Improve Patient Experiences

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ATSU Digital Imaging 1With the advent of digital dentistry over a decade ago, many practitioners are embracing digital techniques and procedures to better serve their patients. Digital technology has truly revolutionized the profession of dentistry, and it is primarily recognized for improving patient experiences and the quality and speed of care received. No longer do most dental procedures need to be done conventionally. 

Akshay Vij, B.D.S., ACT, FAGD, Assistant Professor and Specialty Care Unit Director of Esthetic & Digital Dentistry at A.T. Still University Missouri School of Dentistry & Oral Health (ATSU-MOSDOH), teaches digital dentistry to third- and fourth-year students at the university’s St. Louis Dental Center, operated in partnership with Affinia Healthcare. 

“Digital dentistry is no longer the future. It’s the present,” Dr. Vij says. “Dental school faculty are incorporating digital dentistry training as a core part of the curriculum, and as a result, today’s graduating dentists have the technological capability to perform these procedures and integrate them into their daily practice.” 

There are several reasons to consider digital dentistry:

  • Precision—High accuracy and speed lead to excellent final outcomes (e.g., highly accurate crowns and other fixed dental prostheses, dentures and implant supported prostheses). Accurate and predictable treatment planning of complex surgical and prosthetic cases also lead to better final outcomes.
  • Efficiency—Fewer appointments, less time away from work or school, and reduced need for childcare and travel all contribute to the reduced cost of care and improved accessibility. From an insurance perspective, conventional or digital has the same coverage and benefits (no additional cost to the patient).
  • Patient experience—Happier patients make happier dentists, thereby helping to shed the outdated image of feared experiences in the dental chair.

ATSU-MOSDOH’s digital dentistry curriculum features intraoral impressioning for crowns, bridges, dentures, diagnostics and more. The case may be sent to partner dental laboratories for their advanced capabilities or to in-house milling units and 3D printers that allow same-day restorations. The curriculum also gives students an opportunity to learn about prosthetic implant planning and guided surgery, which improves predictability, reduces complications and improves patient outcomes.

ATSU Digital Imaging 2To go one step further and better prepare graduating students to be at forefront of the profession on day one, Dr. Vij created a new digital dentistry elective for students completing their final year of clinical training, whereby students practice intraoral scanning, designing and milling their restorations, and improving the esthetics with customized staining to better match their patients’ teeth. Availability of digital dentistry is continually increasing, to the extent that the St. Louis Dental Center uses both conventional and digital procedures equally.

With 3D printing, a dentist can do a “mock surgery” and create a physical model beforehand, enabling the patient to better understand what will happen. By using a 3D radiograph rather than a 2D radiograph, procedures are predictable and the patient experience is dramatically improved. If a consult is needed for complicated procedures, collaboration is improved.

“In our technological world, it’s important to embrace change. I’ve seen how digital innovations greatly improve both workflow and patient experience,” explains Jenna Haganman, D.D.S., ATSU-MOSDOH Class of 2020. “I implemented digital dentistry in my private practice for patient education and interaction, as well as orthodontics and restorative procedures. I believe digital dentistry symbolizes the future for delivering the highest quality patient care with improved efficiency and accuracy of treatment.”

Courtesy of Akshay Vij, B.D.S., ACT, FAGD, Assistant Professor and Specialty Care Unit Director of Esthetic & Digital Dentistry at A.T. Still University-Missouri School of Dentistry & Oral Health.

Published on September 9, 2020

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