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Posted on 06-21-2010

Sometimes the Machine Can Make All the Difference
by Dr. Larry Emmott

It is easy to see technology just as machines and networks, but I have always believed the real significance, the real value of technology comes when we use it to improve the human condition. Dr. Tony Romanazzi, a dentist from Glens Falls, New York in the Hudson River Valley, recently told me a lovely story that demonstrates this idea perfectly.

Dr. Romanazzi was asked by a long-time patient if he would see a relative of hers, a special-needs patient we will call Jimmy. Jimmy was a mentally handicapped man in his fifties who functioned about on the level of a two-or three-year-old. That is, he could say a few words and get around the house, but could not really care for himself. Jimmy had been complaining that his teeth hurt. His caregivers had tried to find him some help, but so far no one had been able to do much.

Jimmy’s ability to participate in his diagnosis was limited. He would generally just use a single word like “hurt” or “bad” but could not put together a sentence to describe his symptoms. Nevertheless, Dr. Romanazzi was able to determine that Jimmy had some crown-and-bridge work that was failing. The contacts were open and Jimmy was packing food between his teeth to such a degree that it hurt whenever he ate. Unfortunately, there was no simple solution; in order to help Jimmy, Dr. Romanazzi needed to replace all the inadequate crowns. Of course, the problem was that Jimmy could only offer minimal cooperation and simply would not tolerate a mouth full of gooey impression material, let alone multiple visits and temporaries.

The solution for Dr. Romanazzi was technology. He was already a CAD/CAM user and had become so confident using this technology that he decided to treat Jimmy with CAD/CAM in a single visit and avoid all the hassles of impressions, temps and multiple appointments. The actual process was a bit more complex. Jimmy had some preliminary work done and a single unit to determine how he would tolerate the procedures. However, the bulk of the treatment was done with CAD/CAM in a single appointment. Immediately, Jimmy was smiling again, eating, and no longer in pain.

OK, that is good but what happened after that is really the best part. Imagine what Jimmy’s life must have been like. He had no friends, no social life, no correspondents. He could barely speak a few words. He simply could not interact with the broader world.

Jimmy’s uncle asked Dr. Romanazzi to provide a personal photo for Jimmy. After all, Dr. Romanazzi was one of the few people Jimmy knew outside of his house and immediate caregivers. Dr. Romanazzi was happy to oblige, and thought very little of it after that.

Then, a while later, Dr. Romanazzi gets a call from the uncle asking for some time so he could come to the office to discuss Jimmy. Dr. Romanazzi starts to worry, just as I would. What was wrong? What had happened to Jimmy’s crowns?

When the uncle arrived for the consultation, Dr. Romanazzi asked, “Is Jimmy OK? Is anything wrong with his teeth?”

“Oh, no no the teeth are fine.” The uncle could barely contain himself. “Jimmy was talking,” he said.

Jimmy was using words and phrases that no one had ever heard him use before. He was no longer communicating with a single simple word, but was actually talking with others, telling stories. And the stories he told the most all had to do with Dr. Romanazzi and his wonderful tooth-making machine.

Of course, this story is about a lot more than technology. It is about caring, helping others and making a significant and profound difference in the life of another human being just by doing your job. But it is a job very few others could do. And it is a job that could only be done using modern technology.

It’s not about the machine, it’s about the people. But sometimes the machine can make all the difference. The future is coming and it will be amazing!

Dr. Larry Emmott is the leading authority on dental high tech and one of the most entertaining speakers in dentistry. He is also a writer and consultant. To find out about his high-tech training programs, Technology Guides, and other services call 1-602-791-7071 or visit