Would you build your dream house without an architectural plan? Purchase a new car sight unseen? Probably not, and Smile-Vision in Newton, Massachusetts, says patients shouldn't buy a restoration without knowing what the final product will look like either.
When cosmetic imaging first hit the market in the 1980s, Dr. Larry Brooks-both a dentist and a technician-saw the potential benefits of showing the patient how his proposed smile makeover might look before it's actually fabricated. As a dentist, he was often disappointed with the lack of control he had over esthetics, and as a technician he was frustrated when a patient didn't like the way a restoration looked after insertion. "It seemed as if the end result was a surprise to everyone," says Larry. "I realized there was a huge need for cosmetic imaging and that it would be a great marketing tool to increase patient interest and acceptance of cosmetic treatment."
Larry, who already managed a laboratory, decided to launch a new division of the business to focus on the cosmetic imaging niche and offer the service to other dentists: Smile-Vision Imaging Services. While most in-office cosmetic imaging systems feature a library of stock tooth photos that are digitally pasted into the patient's "before" picture, Smile-Vision's service is different and more personalized. Its digital artists-typically art school graduates who have gone through a six-month training program developed by Smile-Vision-use PhotoShop software and an art tablet to remake the patient's existing dentition into a customized "after" photo. "Commercially available systems are fine to show patients minor adjustments like filling a space, but for anterior smile makeovers you need to have more clinically accurate "after" images in order to show the patient a realistic look," says Jonathan Brooks, MDT, laboratory manager.
If the patient is satisfied with the proposed image and decides to proceed with treatment, the dentist sends the after photo to his laboratory of choice for fabrication. If the patient isn't satisfied with the imaged photo, Smile-Vision offers a redraw option for an additional fee.
Imaging one case costs up to $65, a nominal investment for the dentist if the patient decides to accept treatment. "If $65 sells four $1,000 veneers, the investment is well worth it," says Jonathan. "There are millions of dollars worth of cosmetic work out there just waiting to be done. It's a matter of getting patients to see what the possibilities are."
In addition to boosting cosmetic restoration sales, imaging also helps synchronize patient, dentist and laboratory expectations, and provides the technician with a valuable frame of reference during fabrication. For instance, once the patient approves the image, the technician can use it as a guide to determine the length, shape and color of the teeth.
Smile-Vision Imaging Services works with over two thousand clients and designs over 5,000 digital smiles a year. Even though not all of those clients ultimately send the imaged cases to the Smile-Vision laboratory, the imaging service has changed the lab's fabrication philosophy and procedures. For instance, imaging has become standard practice for all cosmetic cases. "For many labs, the first step is a diagnostic waxup, but for us, it's imaging," says Jonathan.
The service has also changed the lab's target client and its marketing strategies. For example, when the laboratory first opened, it targeted local dentists via traditional methods. Today, its ideal clients are general dentists who are interested in working with imaging technology to grow their practices, and the lab's marketing efforts have become more high-tech and sophisticated. It now focuses on marketing via e-mail with monthly e-newsletters and partners with dentist-clients to write articles for popular dental journals.
Offering cosmetic imaging has also enhanced the reputation of the lab, as well as those of its dentist-clients. "Our commitment to imaging makes it clear to clients and potential clients that we are ready to handle cases with an esthetic component," says Jonathan. "It gives patients confidence in our dentist-clients' abilities as well. It tells them that their dentist is special." LMT
Smile-Vision Laboratory Services Newton, MA
Smile-Vision's imaging service has come a long way since its inception in the 1980s.
"At first, dentists sent us photographic slides and prints," says Larry Brooks. "Dentists didn't have much control over the process and the elapsed time was longer than we would have liked."
In the mid-nineties, Smile-Vision improved its technology by offering computers with custom software already loaded that made it easy for dentists to take digital images and send them through fax lines to the imaging center. While this simplified and sped up the communication, the company still wanted to improve the process.
With the advent of the Internet and inexpensive digital cameras, the service went on-line, resulting in reduced prices and faster, more interactive service. Today, any dentist anywhere can post images to a password-protected website and get their cosmetic simulation in about one hour.
Artists create the smile makeovers and the Smile-Vision laboratory has developed a proprietary technique that uses the images to create full-scale replicas in wax. Currently, Smile-Vision is developing more accurate ways to go from waxup to identical final restorations via 3-D milling procedures.