With the 2020 pandemic changing the health industry as we know it, a number of telehealth offerings came to light in response to the need for remote care.
Align Technology, the creators of Invisalign, delivered on the promises of digital dentistry, promises that were made long before that need arose.
AMEinfo had the following interview with Markus Sebastian, Senior Vice President & Managing Director of EMEA, Align Technology. We asked:
What can we learn from your recent experience with telehealth?
Being at the forefront of advanced technology in the dental sector has and will continue to be the DNA of Align Technology. While digitization has been present in the orthodontic industry for some time, COVID-19 acted as a major catalyst in the adoption of teledentistry as it rapidly became a critical necessity for business continuity for a lot of practitioners across the region.
At the tail end of the year 2020, we decided to run a survey to understand how dental practitioners were affected, and how they pivoted amid the pandemic. From a respondent pool of 1,000, split between the UAE and KSA ,we found that, even though only a third of prospective patients used digital tools to connect with their dentist during the pandemic, 78% of them said that they found it more convenient than before. Almost all of them said that they would like to keep using it also after the COVID-19 pandemic.
While in-person interaction is still highly important for dental practitioners and patients alike, teledentistry is here to stay.
What are the digital innovations that allowed doctors/dental practitioners to keep their practice going?
As technology has evolved, we have seen how those who embraced a digital-first approach have been able to pivot their business operations to continue servicing patients remotely, even during the lockdowns. With the pandemic calling for an agile and fast response, the pace of digitization accelerated and the possibilities it presented were enhanced.
Last year, in the early stages of the pandemic, we launched our Invisalign Virtual Appointment tool, designed to facilitate easier patient-doctor interaction and to provide a solution that would allow doctors to monitor Invisalign treatment between in-office visits, by reviewing photos submitted by a patient through the My Invisalign app. Chief among these advantages are convenience and efficiency. By implementing teledentistry more broadly, dentists and orthodontists can care for more patients in a shorter time, as well as to provide continuity of care.
What needs to be done to future-proof the industry?
When discussing the future of dentistry, we should consider that we are not talking about the notion of replacing traditional healthcare with digital tools, but rather utilizing the technology available to us to complement it in such a way that it benefits both practitioners and patients, especially in a region where interpersonal relationships are highly valued.
Dentists and orthodontists should sooner rather than later think about how they can make the best possible use of these new circumstances. Making the switch to incorporate digital dentistry is worthwhile as it can be easily combined with conventional manual methods.
The key to success is often to use a smart and balanced mixture of both digital and traditional methods. One-size-fits-all recommendations cannot be given. Rather, doctors should consider individual strategies that suit their circumstances best, with a sound sense of judgment and pragmatism.
Align Technology- the Invisalign system and the iTero Element family of scanners are your two core products. Tell us more about them.
The Invisalign aligners are a removable and transparent teeth-straightening solution produced using digital and 3D technologies. The Invisalign system is the most advanced clear aligner system in the world, with 11.6 million patients worldwide. Clear aligner technology is a combination of proprietary virtual modeling software, rapid manufacturing processes and mass customization, and custom-made aligners with patented aligner material. It can treat approximately 90% of orthodontic case starts – from minor, aesthetic teeth corrections to more complex cases. In all cases, it is the doctor who makes the assessment and recommends the treatment.
As the technology behind Invisalign treatment has continued to evolve over the past 24 years, we have introduced Invisalign G8 innovation with SmartForce aligner activation that specifically contours select areas on the aligner’s surface to create strategic contact areas on the tooth surface, providing up to 2x improvement in clinical predictability of incisor intrusion.
On the other hand, our iTero element intraoral scanners truly take today’s orthodontic and restorative dentistry into the future with their innovative technology, thanks to providing an elevated patient experience and improved clinical precision of scanning in 3D. Its parallel confocal imaging technology uses optical and laser scanning to achieve accurate scans in color.
Our new series in the iTero family, the iTero Element Plus series, which we launched globally last year, is the latest installment in the long timeline of innovations.
How will it address the underpenetrated market opportunity in the EMEA region?
Looking at our Q1-3 2021 performance, we have done very well in the EMEA region, with the growth being driven by several markets such as Spain, the largest country market for Invisalign treatment in EMEA. We can attribute this performance mainly due to the acceleration of the digital treatments during the pandemic. Looking at the global performance for Q3 2021, the company revenues were up 38.4%, year-over-year. It was a strong quarter for the company, with 11.6 million patients treated to date. We couldn’t have achieved it without over 210,000 Invisalign trained doctors globally, between dentists and orthodontists.
What I would like to point out is how we did on the scaling side: digitalization really moved up significantly on everyone’s agenda. That’s one of the reasons why iTero scanners were in high demand during the first three quarters of the year – everywhere globally, as well as in Europe and the Middle East.
Our new manufacturing facility in Poland is another attempt by Align to get closer to dentists and orthodontists here, in the EMEA region. Three years ago, we moved three operational centers, where ClinCheck treatment planning is done from Costa Rica to Europe— Germany, Spain, and Poland, to be specific. This year, we also added a treatment planning facility in France. We are continuing this trend of regionalization so that we can be present in all the major markets in the future with dedicated centers.
Aligner fabrication also plays a major role for us in order to be much closer to dentists, which obviously has a number of advantages. We plan to open the manufacturing facility in Wroclaw, Poland in 2022, and over time, manufacture all our aligners for EMEA doctors from the new facility. It`s a major investment for Align Technology, with our plans to add over 2,500 jobs over the next few years.
What is the role of AI in teledentistry, if any?
Data is the fuel that feeds the AI engine and offers improved access to a higher quantity of higher quality datasets. In the healthcare and specifically the dental industry, we can create better algorithms on which the engines are trained, leading to more useful discoveries and insights – for example, to learn from previous patient cases to offer more predictable treatment outcomes for future patients.
The ‘My Invisalign’ app combines several technologies into one product including virtual reality, facial recognition, and includes detailed content on how the Invisalign system works, as well as machine learning technology to simulate what wearers’ smiles will look like after using the medical device. This has been an amazing tool for both of our doctors and patients, and we will continue to integrate data science to all applications to deliver great visualization experiences and quality outcomes – to make our technology work better in the hands of doctors.