Dental Tribune Middle East & Africa

Is digitalisation the way forward for dentistry?

By Simon Beard
December 17, 2018

Digitalisation is changing the way we live and work. The UAE – in particular Dubai – is at the forefront of this innovation, using technology to build a ‘smart, happy city’ in line with H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s vision of Dubai becoming one of the most technologically advanced cities in the world by 2021.

The transformational influence of digital world is evident also in dental sector, with cutting-edge technology used by doctors to serve patients better – and help clinicians achieve more efficient outcomes.

Aesthetics, after all, play an increasingly important role. Studies have found that a genuine smile can help you land a job, close a sale transaction and even motivate others to perform better. In fact, recent report by the American Academy of Orthodontics, conducted on individuals who had had orthodontic treatment as adults, states that as many as 75 per cent of people surveyed have noticed positive effect of the new smile on their personal and professional life. More people than ever are realising the value of investing in orthodontic treatment as it may help them appear younger and feel more self-assured in various situations.

Digital technologies may help more people smile with more confidence and we can certainly see the trend taking strong roots in the UAE and the wider region. In fact, digital dentistry has been a pioneer of sorts in today’s digital narrative. For example, as one of the early adopters of 3D printing, dentistry is transforming the manufacturing process, assuring patients receive custom-made solutions, suited to their specific needs.

With the current focus of the UAE (especially Dubai) in ushering in 3D printing adoption and utilization, led by the vision of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, digitalisation of the dental sector driven by 3D printing is a natural progression, expected to gain even wider acceptance in the years to come.

From 3D printed villas, set to become a reality still in 2018, to the recently announced 3D Printing Institute, Dubai offers a perfect platform to strengthen advanced manufacturing using digital technologies for the dental sector. It also fits in with the industrial strategy of Dubai, whereby a significant focus is placed on customized manufacturing.

The practical application of 3D printing in the medical sector is well-documented. A report by Science Trends highlights that researchers are looking at using 3D printing as a means to create organs and other body parts, where bioprinters ‘manufacture’ tissues and organs from human cells. The pharmaceutical industry is also going full steam ahead, developing 3D pills, which can combine all patient`s medications into one personalised pill.

Digital dentistry is up to speed in this regard. As Dubai Health Authority has announced plans to use 3D printing for dentistry, there is significant interest in digital dentistry in Saudi Arabia, where the dental devices market is projected to grow at a CAGR of 6.58 percent by 2021.

The rise in demand for digital dentistry is driven as much by the cost efficiencies it can generate even for the more expensive dental procedures as by growing focus of dental providers to scale up their technology to stay relevant in the era of fast-pace changes. There is also, of course, the aesthetic value and comfort new technological advancements bring to the patients.

Most industries that are either digitally driven or disrupted have witnessed lowering the costs. Dental industry is no different. Imagine the benefit digital tools would bring to patients as well as to the clinics, as they provide better care at lower costs. This is even more relevant to the regions where insurance coverage of dentistry services is not a luxury available to all.

On the operational side, digital dentistry can helps optimize processes and create more streamlined digitised workflow that covers every aspect of the patient journey – from diagnostics to planning and dental lab production as well as follow-up.

Globally, the restorative industry is set to reach US$25.9 billion by 2025, growing at a CAGR of 6.7 percent, according to a Grand View Research report. It states that growing consumerism and the higher disposable income of patients are fuelling demand for cosmetic dentistry procedures and implantology. The advent of digital industry has been a key driver of this growth. Moreover, its positive impact is being reflected across the MENA region.

The value of digital dentistry goes deeper than this, from helping patients get that ‘perfect selfie’ to undertaking both routine and more complex procedures, such as intraoral imaging, radiography, caries diagnosis and computer-aided implants, which all contribute to improved precision and accuracy.

The Invisalign system has been in the driver’s seat in adopting digital technology to achieve state-of-the-art solutions in modern dentistry. Align Technology, a global medical device company engaged in the design, manufacture and marketing of the Invisalign system, is home to one of the largest dedicated 3D printing facilities in the world, creating about 300,000 units daily of custom aligners through 3D printing and almost 405 million aligners made to date. 88 percent of the company’s global net revenues from Q1 2018, which clocked over US $436.9 million, come from clear aligners. Having ramped up our operations in the Middle East, we are now facilitating direct provision of our advanced suite of digital solutions in orthodontics.

Our clear aligners help move teeth without the use of braces, mini-screws or mini-implants. Clear aligner technology is developed through a combination of proprietary virtual modelling software, rapid manufacturing processes and mass customization using highly innovative materials. With the Middle East and Africa orthodontic supply market valued at US$266 million in 2016, the growth prospects are bright.

One area where digital dentistry has transformed dental care is the discreet orthodontic system, of which Invisalign has been the pioneer for over 21 years now. Assuring quicker and higher quality results in teeth straightening with minimal invasion, the Invisalign clear aligners are increasingly being sought after by customers in the MENA region.

Created using 3D imaging and printing technology, the Invisalign system helps move teeth step by step till they reach to the correct final position. A 3D simulation treatment plan is created for every patient to ensure that the clear aligners produced are the precise fit for the individual. Each aligner shifts the teeth slightly, moving them horizontally and vertically, and even rotating them when needed. The aligners are also engineered to use the right amount of force in the right place at the right time.

Our clear aligners are comfortable, removable, easy to clean, and made of an advanced, patented, medical grade SmartTrack material, which differentiates them from traditional braces and alternative clear aligner offerings. Suitable for teenagers and adults alike, the Invisalign system also helps address several other problems such as overbite, under bite, cross bite, crowding and gaps between teeth.

This builds on Align Technology’s role as a pioneer in the invisible orthodontics market, a history that goes back to 1999, when the Invisalign system was first introduced. Within the next two years, one million unique clear aligners were manufactured. Today, the number of users has crossed over five and a half million, including 1,3 million teenage patients, and the system is offered in over 100 countries.

We are also driving the evolution from analogue to digital with the iTero Intraoral scanner − helping to modernize today’s practices by replacing physical impressions, creating digital treatment planning, and leveraging the potential to revolutionise almost every type of dental treatment offered. We believe the future of dental industry is digital.

Maintaining healthy teeth is very important for one’s well-being – underpinning how digitalisation of dentistry services is contributing to the all-round wellness of individuals. By offering doctors and patients our digital, end-to-end solutions, we give all a reason to smile.

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