The way manufacturers and clinicians look at implant dentistry certainly has changed since Ken Varner first started at Zimmer Biomet Dental nearly 20 years ago. Back then, companies focused primarily on product training—essentially how to follow proper protocols when placing their products/implants—while clinicians mostly treated dental implants as a standalone procedure.
Today, that has shifted, said Varner, who is the director of education for Zimmer Biomet’s Dental division. Dentists are now looking at treatment plans more comprehensively, and the training clinicians and their team members receive reflects that—helping them become confident and proficient in all aspects of implant therapy.
“If Mary comes in and is missing a tooth, dentists don’t replace the tooth anymore. They stop and ask why is Mary missing a tooth. Is there an underlying factor like hygiene or a medical condition? That’s the bigger issue,” Varner said. “Dentists are now truly treatment planning holistically. They’re looking at dental implant therapy and how it impacts their entire practice. And as manufacturers, we have a responsibility to not just sell products, but to make sure we train doctors to competency in the safe and effective use of those products.”
There’s also been an evolution in what implant companies provide. Twenty years ago, they primarily sold implants and abutments. Today, companies are offering a full portfolio of solutions. The surgical product lines have expanded to now include full regenerative portfolios, from bone to membranes. We are also seeing a whole suite of digital technologies, Varner said, from intraoral scanners and digital software that help clinicians treatment plan full-mouth rehabilitation. Because of these, doctors have one point of contact for the entire treatment process, rather than having to work with different companies along the way.
“It’s been a gradual change,” Varner said. “Everyone knew you needed bone grafting materials, membranes and abutments with implants, but seven years ago no one thought you needed a scanner, digital planning software or a 3D printer. Now, every major implant manufacturer is affiliated with an intraoral scanner and digital implant planning software. These technologies have really changed the face of dental implant therapy over the last five to seven years. Zimmer Biomet Dental is proud to now offer a true end-to-end digital solution for our customers, but we are just as proud to offer the education needed to learn such a solution.”
Zimmer Biomet’s Teaching Methodologies
The training Zimmer Biomet Institute offers focuses on four areas: theory, knowledge acquisition, technique review and skill development. These are the basic fundamentals needed to properly teach anything, Varner said, and sets clinicians up for success no matter their proficiency or comfort level with implant dentistry when they first start.
While many of Zimmer Biomet’s courses hit on all four topics, the manufacturer also offers hands-on only options for doctors who have the first three areas down.
“We recognize,” Varner said, “there is no singular approach or style when it comes to learning. No matter where dentists are in their pathway to education, we offer a complete curriculum that covers the information they need.”
Trends in Dental Education
The biggest trend in dental education is how it’s delivered, Varner said. The COVID-19 pandemic forced manufacturers to develop hybrid courses, meaning clinicians no longer have to travel to attend a class and be out of town for four or five days. Now, they can take 80 to 90 percent of the course online, only traveling to complete the skill development portion.
Being able to take courses online via video conference is just more convenient, and is a trend Varner expects to continue long after the pandemic is over.