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Analog vs. Digital A Retrospective Look at Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

Over the course of the last 10 years we’ve seen so many changes in our field. There has been much scrutiny and uncertainty about whether or not the advancements of technology would have positive or negative impacts on our career as dental technicians. Will we be replaced by machines? How can we remain relevant? What’s next? Where do we go from here? We hope to shed some light as we reflect on where we’ve been, where we’re at, and where we’re going!

As you pre-millennials will remember, as little as ten years ago, we were still doing almost everything by hand or analog if you will. We spent exorbitant amounts of time pouring and monitoring the ever important W/P ratios of the model room, waxing everything from undercuts to full contour crowns and frameworks, investing, burning out, casting, finishing, degassing, opaquing, layering, grinding, polishing and, well you get the point... Don’t get me wrong, if you are as passionate as I am you probably take a great deal of pride in each aspect of the process. It’s what defines us as artists. I’ve personally shed blood, sweat, and tears over my bench not to mention pulled more than my share of all-nighters, averaged 16 hour days, and felt like I needed a massage therapist and chiropractor on speed dial! Still yet I feel blessed to be in my seat and absolutely love dental technology. This industry is not for the light hearted and most technicians feel a sense of “marriage” to the bench. I think that is why we are so protective over our passion and so reluctant to embrace a changing landscape and harness the technology as what it really is. So what is it? Currently we are seeing so many advancements that it sometimes evokes fear that soon we as technicians won’t have a relevant position in the dental team. I will couple that fear with absolute certainty that if you aren’t willing to embrace the technology, the above statement is 100% true. Not because you aren’t an incredible artist or a passionate technician that deserves the seat you’ve earned. Simply because our customers are investing in the technology whether you are or not. I don’t know if you have children, but it’s kinda like buying a new toy and telling them they aren’t allowed to play with it. Let me repeat that, “Whether you invest in new technologies or not, your customers are going to.” Our remaining relevant or not isn’t the fault of a changing community, it is our willingness to adapt and continually reinvent ourselves within the scope of change. So what does that mean for us? We are currently at a turning point. We are embarking on a time where single unit posterior crowns may soon not be the “bread and butter.” We are at a time when the barriers between fixed and removables prosthodontics are dissolving right before our eyes. We are watching our industry change and you have a choice. You may choose to view it as doom and gloom or decide that there has never been a more exciting time in dental technology than now! Where do we go from here? There are unending opportunities for the man who swims with the current rather than he who swims against it. All of the aforementioned advancements are nothing more than tools in your preverbal toolbox. They still require talent from a technician who has been trained to fabricate a functional prosthetic with beautiful aesthetics. Let’s look at the facts: 1. There is a delicate balance between time and profitability. Can a clinician make a restoration? Absolutely but at an expense. There are plenty of talented clinicians out there but they realize that their time is better spent checking hygiene, filling teeth and seating restorations. They also would rather spend expensive chair-time taking good records, impressions and pictures for their laboratory so that they can be efficient balancing their time across multiple chairs. I think it’s also important to note that not all dentists want to be a lab technician. 2. Even if single unit crowns become as easy as literally pushing a button there are still so many ways to maintain your relevance as a vital part of the team. Solidify your position by focusing on implants, surgical guides, long-span edentulous solutions, full arch restorations, removables, orthodontics and high-end aesthetics. Diversify and become a valuable asset to your community by meeting all of its dental needs. 3. As we see the boundaries between fixed and removable disciplines dissolve, we should lend our focus to the many opportunities to advance our position, by learning as much as we can about the various materials and systems that support full arch restorations. Ceramists have had to learn about full arch functionality and creating a balanced occlusion that can support a healthy bite during excursions. At the same time removable techs have had to learn a fair share and create solutions for over dentures with fixed components. Make use of your knowledge and always know your worth. Thanks to the developments of CAD/CAM, 3D Printing, Zirconia, Pressables, Pekkton, Composites, Flexibles, Resins and everything all the way down to brushes and polishing compounds we are able to provide high quality dental restorations with pinpoint precision for every dental scenario we face! Well at this point I suppose we all have a decision to make... Decide whether your cup is half full or half empty. Make the most of the tools you have to work with and always remember that the most valuable tool you have is yourself! Relax, embrace, and enjoy!

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