Virtual practice: The way forward

Dr Theo Baisi

Dr Theo Baisi, one of the leading orthodontists in Sydney, Australia, has always been fascinated with computers and digital technology. After practicing for over three decades, his openness to adapt to the advances and innovations has made his practice what it is today: Future-ready.

Like all orthodontists, Dr Baisi started out using metal brackets, molar bands, and looping arch-wires to the point of developing callouses on his fingers.

He shared, “Orthodontic practice in the 1980s required excellent manual skills along with knowledge and persistence to achieve optimal outcomes. Like a stonemason, orthodontics was a craft, as well as a scientific pursuit.

But recently, orthodontics essentially became a reactive treatment process. We do something to patient’s teeth, see what has happened after four to six weeks, then do something else, until we are happy.”

In 2003, with the advent of Invisalign and SureSmile, he began his digital journey.

“With these clear aligner technologies, we were able to prescribe the exact positions of the teeth, when and where we wanted them to be. So, if nothing was broken and the aligners were fitting, we could see our patients less and less. The six-week intervals became 12. The only problem was, what would we do if something was going wrong,” he commented.

He said that if they had a way of monitoring their patients outside of the clinic, then theoretically speaking, patients can visit only when needed.

And that’s how Dental Monitoring became a relevant tool to his practice today.

Staying one step ahead

Dental Monitoring (DM) is an AI-powered software which allows dental professionals to follow and assess patients’ treatment remotely. Through DM’s SmileMate, advanced AI is combined with the convenience of smartphones to connect patients and doctors to provide virtual consultations.

As Dr Baisi is a strong advocate for digital technology, he utilises this software as the algorithms are not only detailed but accurate too.

“I even receive weekly reports on how active the wire is. That means the patients could come in sooner if needed or later. If you add this to a system like SureSmile where you can have custom NiTi wires bent, clinicians eliminate the need for direct bonding and become even more efficient,” he said.

Now, even though he spends a lot more of his time in front of a computer, the clinical outcomes of his treatment are better than ever before.

He added, “This also significantly reduced the stress on the staff, especially now that we also do remote and virtual appointments for routine aligners, as well as phase 1 expansion and for observation and retention patients.”

Dental Monitoring made it possible to free up unnecessary appointments, hence, increasing their overall practice efficiency.

Walking the talk

Most of the time, technological advancements are designed for practitioners to provide better care. But what is it like to be on the receiving end?

Dr Baisi and his team also wondered the same thing. But to their surprise, the patients were eager to be on board.

He admitted, “At first, we thought that patients would think that they were not wanted in the clinic and therefore, why should they pay us money.

What has transpired, however, is that they are embracing the digital interaction with the practice. They are confident that they can reach out to us with less interference in their own lives.”

During the lockdown, they had nearly 500 active DM patients and they were already in a great position to monitor and reassure them that they are well-taken care of. Patients were using the SmileMate to communicate and stay in touch with them.

In fact, Dr Baisi noted that the pandemic situation has caused a drastic change in how they operate.

He said, “If we now combine the fact that we are 65% aligners and we remote monitor as much as we can

“If we now combine the fact that we are 65% aligners and we remote monitor as much as we can, the 100+ patients per day have reduced nearly 40% and staff has reduced nearly 30%.

Numbers of appointments per patient are reducing, only anecdotal at this stage, but at least 10% fewer appointments per patient across the board.”

In addition, Dental Monitoring had been particularly useful for a patient staying in a different state.

“I have been treating a patient in Queensland with missing lower teeth. He required extraction of deciduous teeth and over 12mm of extraction space to close with aligners. Although the treatment has taken over 18 months, I have only physically seen him twice after we started but have been able to direct the removal of the deciduous teeth and follow through. Just recently, he was able to have a scan done which was forwarded to me to work on,” he said.

Future and beyond

Dr Baisi himself is astonished by how orthodontics has progressed over the years. And, with Dental Monitoring, the possibilities are endless.

However, when asked about his thoughts on the future of the profession, he honestly shared his reservations.

“I am somewhat worried that the digital and AI advances we are seeing today, which have been amazing, are seen as a substitute for our specialist knowledge and patients are suffering for it.

But I am hopeful that this will change in the mid-term as overall knowledge increases throughout.

Long term, I am concerned for the academic side of things and unbiased orthodontic clinical and scientific research.

The 12 years it takes to specialise, combined with the cost, may outweigh the ability to maintain an income from orthodontics alone and require combining this with general dentistry,” he explained.

But for dental professionals who are interested in incorporating Dental Monitoring to their practice, Dr Baisi’s advice is: Commit to the process.

“It is not like asking the representative for a special introductory deal and then going back to the team and saying, ‘Look what I’ve just signed up for!’

First, you need to decide as a team what do you want to achieve by using DM’s Virtual Practice and then design the systems around this to make it work.

Decide to commit the next 10 or 20 patients to the process to work out the system and communication then evaluate,” he advised.

Dr Baisi strongly believe that a well-planned digital workflow is the key to success. He is certain that going digital is the way forward and there is no turning back.

This article was published in Dental Asia January/February 2021 issue.