EAGLE — The Vail Valley is a special place for many reasons. People travel here from all over to ski and raft and … have dental work done?
Yes, dental work.
That’s due to a few factors, such as a transient population that fluctuates with the season, the high number of second-home owners, the Eagle County Regional Airport and the CAD/CAM dental technology available at a handful of dental offices here.
CAD/CAM stands for “computer-aided design/manufacturing.” It allows teeth to be crowned or fixed with prosthetics in a matter of hours instead of weeks.
“For 98 percent of dental offices across the country, this is relatively new technology, but I’ve been doing this about five years,” said Michael Wing, of Eagle Valley Dental in Eagle. “I get patients from Los Angeles, Dallas, Fort Worth, Texas, and Chicago. One person comes and then they bring their whole family to me when they come out on their next holiday.”
The more traditional procedure for fixing a chipped tooth or making a crown takes a couple of weeks. On the first visit, a model is made of the tooth to get repaired and the patient gets a temporary crown to wear while the crown is being made in a lab somewhere else. When the crown is ready, the patient returns to have it installed.
With CAD/CAM technology, the patient walks out with the crown in two hours.
Wing said that makes a big difference when a visitor chips a tooth on the ski hill.
“When the patient has to come back to finish the work, that doesn’t always happen,” Wing said. “When I can do this in one visit, I don’t have a failed appointment two weeks later.”
In one case, Wing fixed a tooth for a helicopter pilot who needed it right away or he wouldn’t be allowed to go on a six-year mission.
Since the CAD/CAM systems are more commonly found here than in many other places, some visitors simply incorporate a dental procedure into their vacation.
“We’re doing two crowns for a patient from Florida and he wouldn’t have done it here otherwise if we didn’t have this system,” said Mandy Robison, of Peak Dentistry in Edwards. “I think you will start to find it in more and more offices.”
Bethany Haerter, a hygienist for Vail Dentistry in Edwards, agreed that their CAD/CAM system made a difference for their business.
“We took the leap of faith on the investment about five years ago because it’s really a pain for people having temporary crowns and coming back,” she said. “This is a huge benefit for people in this valley. Someone who comes in with a broken tooth from the ski hill can literally get back out on the hill that same day.”
Haerter added that the technology is beneficial to the health of the gums as well.
“The accuracy allows us to preserve or conserve the natural tooth structure, and gums are healthier against the natural tooth,” she said.
One reason the technology is not widespread is the cost. The systems carry a price tag that’s between $100,000 and $150,000.
“It was a large investment,” Robison said. “We worked hand in hand with labs for so many years, this changes our career, since my husband and I do all the work ourselves.”
Wing has an assistant who spends a lot of time on his CAD/CAM system.
“In some cases like this, it creates a job here that was formerly going to a lab somewhere else,” he said.
Robinson noted that the technology is commonly used in the labs and it’s simply making the jump to offices.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if someday it becomes more necessary for dental offices,” she said.
Haerter said it’s already an important piece of equipment for this area.
“I think there’s a need for it in our valley because we do help a lot of people on vacation,” she said.