So far, most of the efforts in digital dentistry are focused on individual technologies which are essential for the digital transition of different aspects of dental care. However, existing studies that evaluated digital applications in medicine and dentistry have demonstrated suboptimal outcomes due to development and implementation of individual technologies and not considering the entire system of technologies and people. Therefore, it is critical to consider digital dentistry as a complex system comprising of different technologies, clinicians, patients as well as their interactions in real world setting to transform dental care and enhance population oral health. To achieve this aim, we need to establish the framework that supports the successful transition of this complex digital dentistry system into the real world. Below, we describe the rationale for the systems approach over individual technologies:
1. Applying systems approach will help to understand the information flow within the system and the interactions between different technologies/processes/stakeholders. Eventually, the data generated from different technologies need to be shared and communicated with each other to avoid information silos. Properly connecting different technologies/processes/data and people will produce a synergistic effect than each of these resources by itself. It is an essential step to achieve enhanced patent care processes and outcomes through digital dentistry.
2. Fragmented implementation of technologies generate complex data sets that are challenging to process and to derive meaningful information. Therefore, it is important to use a system approach as early as possible to avoid wasting time and efforts on processing legendary data and tools in the future. This is especially important to maintain the quality of patients' longitudinal records.
3. Another potential benefit of the system approach is that it will help the research community to identify the critical technologies and standards needed to support digital dentistry. By studying the interactions and information/resources exchanges between different processes/technologies, we will be able to have a clearer view on how the digital dentistry can provide the best dental care for patients and which are the key components (technologies/standards/trainings/etc…) needed to make it happen.
It is the perfect time to start considering digital dentistry as a complex system, and putting efforts to build the framework for digital dentistry now than later. It will be a crucial step to provide better dental care (preventive and personalized) to the patients.
Shuning Li & Thankam Paul Thyvalikakath
Indiana University School of Dentistry