Digital dentistry, which refers to digitally-enabled dental technologies and components to perform dental procedures, has made waves. A decade after venture capitalist Marc Andreesen declared that “software is eating the world,” dentistry has proven that observation to be accurate. Yet, even as software eats dentistry, digital dentistry has not gone mainstream. For many dentists, digitally-enabled technologies exist primarily in dentistry shows. Many dentists have embraced technologies that have dramatically improved their workflows, yet digital dentistry still seems to be something far off. Nevertheless, digital dentistry is here to stay.
Change often starts on the industry’s fringes, with the innovators who, if they prove the worth of an idea, inspire early adopters to take on an idea. By the time an idea has reached the early adopters, there is a good chance that it will stick. In terms of digital dentistry’s adoption by the dental industry, dentistry is still in the early adopter stage of the five stages of tech adoption.
The cost has been the most significant barrier to the adoption of digitally-enabled products. For many dentists, the benefits of digital dentistry have not yet been so clear that they are willing to pay the cost of adopting it. Considering the impact of the global health crisis on revenues in dentistry, dentists are in an even weaker position now than they were the year before the pandemic. Yet, we know that the cost of technology does decline as adoption becomes more widespread and ways to manufacture products more cheaply are found. Thus, the cost barrier will not be there forever.
Another barrier is that of understanding. Many dentists simply need to be convinced that there is a compelling value from using digital dentistry. Will investing in digital dentistry result in superior clinical outcomes? Will it improve the patient experience? Will workflows be smoothed and made more efficient? Will profitability increase? Will the benefits materially outweigh the cost of training staff and obtaining the software and subsequent updates? These are some of the questions dentists are asking themselves. Even for those dentists convinced about the benefits of digital dentistry, there is a fear that an investment now will soon become obsolete as new technology takes over.
Dentists who have embraced digital dentistry have reaped immense rewards. The most important metric when making capital allocation decisions is the return on invested capital (ROIC), which, if the economic value is to be added, must be greater than the cost of capital. Many dentists have found that ROIC has exceeded the cost of capital and economic value added to their dental practice, whether it be a cosmetic dentist office, dental implant specialist’s office, or something else. The benefits have been resounding. The experience of these dentists will attract more traditional dental practices and persuade more and more dental practices to adopt digital dentistry.
Adopting digitally-enabled tools such as digital imaging technology, smile simulation software, and other digital solutions will transform the industry. Digital dentistry is here to stay and will soon take over the industry.