How Dentists Can Go Back to Work After COVID-19
The NHS and Chief Dental Offices of the UK – and governing bodies around the world – are recommending that dentists go back to work after COVID-19, albeit in a very new environment.
This paper outlines how additive manufacturing (AM) solutions such as 3D printing can support dentists to go back to work in such a new environment.
Going Back to Work: A Prompt to Prepare
In a statement released in May with A Prompt to Prepare – the document detailing new ways of working for UK-based dentists after COVID-19 – Sara Hurley, England’s Chief Dental Officer, said:
“The immediate focus is on increasing access for patients and supporting practices as they manage the on-going risks in delivering dental care, notably aerosol generating procedures.”
A Prompt to Prepare explains ways of minimising contact – and the risk of infection that contact brings – between patients, staff and external labs.
It is clear on the impact these changes could have: "When practices reopen there will be new ways of working, which will mean changes for patients accessing care."
AM solutions can help practice managers to make these necessary changes while at the same time promoting the best possible care for patients.
Additive Manufacturing and Dentistry
Writing in the British Journal of Dentistry in 2015, Alaa Dawood celebrated innovations that AM was already bringing to dentistry:
"The congruence of scanning, visualization, CAD, milling and 3D-printing technologies, along with the profession’s innate curiosity and creativity, makes this an exceptionally exciting time to be in dentistry."
Now, AM methods are used to produce fully tailored crowns, arch models and even dentures – often inside the dental clinic itself with desktop-sized 3D printers.
Technologies like specialist computer assisted design (CAD) software and contact-free scanners join up with printers and to produce faster turnaround times, at less cost, with better fits, and an overall more satisfying experience for patients.
These benefits will only increase as AM – a quickly growing industry – brings new innovations to dentistry.
Dawood predicts that, "with advances in 3D imaging and modelling technologies such as cone beam computed tomography and intraoral scanning, and with the relatively long history of the use of CAD CAM technologies in dentistry, [AM] will become of increasing importance".
How Can Additive Manufacturing Help Dentists Go Back to Work After COVID-19?
The already close relationship between dentistry and orthodontics and AM will be strengthened by some of the consequences of the COVID-19 outbreak.
In the United Kingdom, dental practices coordinated to set up more than 550 urgent dental care (UDC) facilities. In addition, they established remote urgent care services with a telephone triage system.
This level of coordination combined with the profession's "innate curiosity and creativity" mentioned above make dentistry already well-placed to take advantage of the benefits of AM.
Not only this, but AM can be put to good use in the continued and international effort to minimise the spread and negative impact of COVID-19.
Invest in Training
With fewer appointments in clinic (to ensure contact-free patient changes) staff may be available for training and CPD. Indeed, A Prompt to Prepare advised practices to "consider additional training for staff".
Governing bodies have a wealth of e-learning available on infection-specific practices, and practice managers considering new technology assistance will want staff to be expert users for such an investment.
Reduce Contact with Patients
A Prompt to Prepare stresses the importance of reducing contact between clinical as well as non-clinical staff and patients as much as possible. There are a number of ways AM solutions could assist in this.
For example, scanners designed especially for dentistry – like the Aoralscan produced by industry leader Shining 3D Dental – can now create high resolution mouth scans without using powders and in a much faster time than earlier versions of this technology.
All of this can enable dentists to maintain a relatively safe distance from patients with as little contact time as possible, without interfering with the quality of information obtained.
Improve Clinic Efficiency
Speeding up appointments with scanning technology – as well as minimising patient contact – helps to make clinics and practices more efficient at treating patients.
Various methods of minimising turnaround time are suggested in A Prompt to Prepare, including careful redesign of patient flows and the practice and staff schedule.
Here, AM can be used to its major strengths. Modern 3D printers are significantly faster than early versions of the technology. For example, the AccuFab-D1 Dental 3D Printer can produce 120 warm-up crowns in 45 minutes, and four arch models in just one hour.
CAD software like the industry standard Exocad Dental CAD can help practitioners to illustrate recommended procedures to patients, as well as speeding up the design process overall.
Software like this – or the easy-to-use Maestro 3D package – also helps to reduce the risk of cross-contamination between practices and labs. High quality digital information can of course be shared electronically, with no risk of infection from a physical virus.
AM to Help Dentists Make Difficult Decisions
Here, the benefit that AM processes can have on dentists and their patients after COVID-19 is briefly outlined. The profession's "innate curiosity and creativity" will ensure more early adoption of these processes.
AM can also support dentists' innate compassion. As medical professionals, they have faced the ethical dilemmas of practicing during an epidemic and have had to make tough decisions.
However, as Paul Coulthard remarked in British Dental Journal in April, 2020, "The role of dental professionals in preventing the transmission of COVID-19 is critically important.”
This important role and responsibility can be assisted by dentists' continued adoption of AM technologies and processes.
CDO England (2020). “Statement.” A Prompt to Prepare. Online.
CDO England (2020). A Prompt to Prepare. Online.
Coulthard, P. (2020). "Dentistry and coronavirus (COVID-19) - moral decision-making." British Dental Journal. Online.
Dawood, A. et al. (2015). "3D printing in dentistry." British Dental Journal. Online.