HACKENSACK, N.J. — Dentists say every year new technology comes on the market that promises to make dentistry more precise, appealing or streamlined. But with each purchase, they need to weigh the cost of adding that technology against its impact on patient care.
Whether they are upgrading the composite they use for cavity fillings or overhauling their X-ray system, dentists say technology is creating ways for them to clean, fix or reinforce patients’ teeth. But it can also be an expensive outlay, making every upgrade in technology an important decision.
“I am constantly reading journals or newsletters looking for a new technology that can make my practice better,” said Lawrence Lizzack, who runs a practice with his son Jason in Fair Lawn, N.J. “Everything progresses with time, and we want to do the same.”
Lizzack said that while there are countless new technologies available each year — ranging from machines that can cost more than $100,000 to build crowns in the office to new composite solutions that can be bought as needed — he weighs the cost and how much it will affect the care he offers patients.
“You have to ask yourself: Do I really need that?” Lizzack said. “It’s a question of: Will it really help my business and patients, or is it just there for a wow factor?”
While Lizzack said he decided against spending $70,000 on laser technology for hard and soft tissue, one of the most valuable purchases he said he has made is a digital panoramic X-ray machine that negates the need to bite down on sensors before the picture is taken.
Instead of having an X-ray machine against a patient’s face as he bites on a plastic-wrapped sensor, the new machine slowly rotates around the patient’s head and sends the images directly to a computer for Lizzack to evaluate.
“It’s been tremendous, especially for children who don’t have the patience to bite down on those cumbersome sensors for so long,” Lizzack said.
Elliot Frey, who has a practice in Wyckoff, N.J., said he finds new technology through mandatory continuing-education classes or by networking with fellow dentists. Frey said dentists are required to earn a certain number of continuing education credits every three years.
In February, Frey spent more than $50,000 to upgrade his X-ray system officewide, replacing the old silver emulsion film X-ray system with a totally digitized version. The new system can magnify the X-rays of teeth and manipulate the image to better understand the problems with a patient’s teeth.
“It can take so many different views, and there is a 90 percent reduction in radiation exposure,” Frey said. “You can see all of the little grooves in the teeth and use tools to really understand what is going on.”
Frey said that besides improving his ability to spot potential cavities or other spots on his patients’ teeth, it also cuts down on the time it takes his staff to detect possible problems.
“What used to take five or eight minutes now takes a matter of nanoseconds,” Frey said. “It might not seem like a huge jump for one patient, but over the course of a full day of patients, it really adds up.”
Now that Frey has completely digitized his X-ray system, he said he hopes to begin doing the same with the records of his patients to replace the thousands of manila folders in his office.
Joshua Austein, one of the dentists at West Ridgewood Dental Professionals, said his practice takes a cautious approach before investing in new technology.
He said he makes sure his staff is educated on any new product and is aware of any deficiencies before making any purchase.
“You always want to stay current, but you also want to make sure it’s not just a fad,” Austein said.