Dr. Neal Patel
Combining his lifelong passions for medicine, art and computer science, the Ohio based visionary emerges as a powerful force in contemporary dentistry, integrating and educating thousands on 3D Cone Beam imaging and other cutting edge technologies.
Growing up in a family of physicians in the small farming town of Chillicothe, Ohio (renowned as “The First Capital of Ohio”), Dr. Neal Patel, DDS, felt that he was being groomed to follow in their formidable footsteps—yet his passions were equally divided between medical science, computer technology and the visual arts. Graduating from his youthful obsessions with computers, he was building his own computers by high school, and, as an intuitive, naturally gifted artist he developed a mastery of replicating world renown art by duplicating existing work.
Drawing on all of these distinctive influences, Dr. Patel—who received both his Bachelor’s in molecular genetics and his DDS from Ohio State University–has emerged as a revolutionary force in contemporary dentistry. While implementing cutting edge technology in his own private practice—the Powell, Ohio (a suburb of Columbus) based, aptly named Infinite Smiles, launched in 2008—he also travels the world educating thousands of dentists around the globe on integrating two exciting, fast growing technologies.
Dr. Patel is one of only a handful of dentists in the U.S. trained on 3D cone beam computed tomography (CBCT), a medical imaging technique consisting of X-ray computed tomography where X-rays produce a 3D model of his patients allowing him to perfect dentistry on the virtual model first, and then transfer it to the patient for treatment. Dr. Patel has worked closely with Sirona, the world’s largest manufacturer of dental technology, to continue to develop this product for future applications. The other technology, CEREC (Chairside Economical Restoration of Esthetic Ceramics), allows dental practitioners to produce an indirect ceramic dental restoration using Computer Assisted Design (CAD) technology and Computer Assisted Manufacturing (CAM). With CEREC, a software and machine that can design a tooth (crown) and mill it in a single visit, teeth can be restored in a single sitting with the patient, rather than multiple sittings required with earlier techniques.
Dr. Patel is known on an international level not only for using CAD/CAM and Cone Beam, but also for understanding the complexities of getting the two technologies to work seamlessly together. “The technologies for milling computer parts and auto components is still not used much in health care and prosthetics, but their applications are growing,” he says. “I have helped develop a system where we take a patient’s 3D cone beam X-ray and simulate everything ahead of time, using computers to do a ‘virtual surgery’—using both CAD/CAM and Cone Beam. This involves transferring files from one machine to another, exchanging information back and forth between the two technologies to make sense of what needs to happen for the patient. Both systems work great independently but a magical thing happens when they communicate with each other via importing and exporting data to manage patterns. The end result is absolute precision.”
In addition to providing regular dental services, from routine care to the latest in cosmetic enhancements and restoration, Dr. Patel and his team at Infinite Smiles employ CBCT, CEREC and many other powerful, innovative tools that are changing the business of dentistry. Among the modern technologies used at the state-of-the-art facility are digital X-rays, Galileos 3D imaging, Schick 33 High Resolution X-rays with the lowest radiation dose available in dentistry, BioPAK for TMJ Pain/Headache Diagnosis and Treatment, Anatomage 3D Virtual Surgery, Itero Digital Impressions, the Florida Probe for Periodontal Diagnostics and Waterlase Laser Dentistry.
In addition, for guided surgeries, the combination of CT scan technology and 3D imaging provides a 3D image for all the teeth, bones, nerves and sinus cavities. “The benefits to the patient are numerous,” says Dr. Patel. “They are no longer reliant simply on the dentists and our hand skills. Dentistry is now a blend of science and art and we can deliver results within a fraction of a hair, or 100 microns of accuracy (100 microns is one tenth of a millimeter). We still use our hands, of course, but we are guided now by the computer. For patients having implants, we custom create an appliance or guard for their mouth that snaps over their teeth as a surgical guide. We can then do the surgery through a hole that controls the direction and the depth of the drilling. It’s a huge trend in modern dentistry, and the key now is, how do we educate more dentists on how to use it.”
Because many dentists around the world own equipment manufactured by Sirona—the company that has been in the forefront of these emerging technologies—they often attend classes that are sponsored by the company to educate themselves on the latest software, products and equipment available. Dr. Patel travels extensively in the U.S., Canada and Europe and has even gone to Australia to train clinicians on how to use the equipment. Sirona and its distribution companies that provide these items for dentists often organize events in larger cities, inviting anywhere from 30 to 500 practitioners.
Dr. Patel cites some statistics which offer hope but also great challenges for him as a world traveling educator: “There are 10,000 CAD/CAM machines being used in the U.S. out of approximately 160,000 dentists who could be using it. The CBCT machines are even less pervasive—only about 6,000 dentists currently have it. And only a few hundred of us have both CBCT and CAD/CAM. So the market penetration is not huge. Part of that is because it’s an expensive technology and users have to be willing to invest in it. Still, the industry at large is open to progressing, as the overall switch to electronic medical records shows. This is where dentistry is heading in the future.”
Dr. Patel says that the need for education in this arena is so great that he could “easily hang up my drill and holster and start teaching full time. But for me to stay cutting edge, I have to have solid, ongoing clinical experience. Those I teach appreciate the fact that I’m sharing real life cases and scenarios with them. When I educate them on a certain procedure, they can rest assured that I have done it with a patient very recently. Plus, I have very strong personal ties to my patients and my community and I want to be there for them when they need my help.”
Dr. Patel credits the “winners” he surrounds himself with in his personal and professional lives for helping him manage his whirlwind lifestyle—which includes seeing patients Monday through Wednesday and sometimes Monday through Thursday, and teaching the rest of the week. He lectures 46 weekends out of the year and that usually involves back-to-back classes.
“The good news is that I still consider dentistry my hobby, because I am so passionate about it,” he says. “I choose to continue to do what I love and feel I am very fortunate that I’ve found something in life that is truly a passion for me and that has allowed me to make a living. That’s when I think people are ultimately the happiest. I feel like I get to enjoy the best of both worlds. It’s a pretty intense schedule, so there isn’t a lot of time when I’m in one place at any given point. But I’m dedicated to my practice.”
“I also devote as much free time as I have available to my family and if I can’t give that time to them, I will bring them with me when I’m teaching,” he says. “I have two little daughters, ages 6 and 3. I also have a fantastic wife that supports me through all of this and believes in what I do. That’s the only way I can do it. She has the same vision that I have and we want to make a difference for patients.”
Even before launching Infinite Smiles—whose clientele includes over 3,600 active complex reconstructive patients from throughout Europe, Canada and the U.S.—Dr. Patel was active as a consultant, educating surgeons in the field of 3D imaging, computer generated implant surgery and the art of stereolithography in dental applications. His road to becoming known for establishing many of the techniques and protocols for digital implantology and prosthetics began with his prosthodontic fellowship at Ohio State; he was trained under world-renowned prosthodontist Dr. Edwin McGlumphy.
Dr. Patel later trained in Como, Italy, under Dr. Lorenzo Vanini, a worldwide authority on aesthetic and neuromuscular dentistry. Dr. Patel participated there in a hands-on scientific education program that focused on the conservative restoration of anterior teeth.
“Prosthodontics is not just about fixing a single tooth,” he says, “but designing and reconstructing entire mouths for patients with extreme needs who have been in accidents or who have cancer, for instance. Because of everything I learned in that one year program, when I graduated from the implant fellowship in 2007, numerous companies in the dental market sought me out because they were developing technologies that required know-how about implants, implantology and prosthodontics. They wanted me to help them with development. Sirona, which was formerly the dental division of Siemans AG, appreciated my clinical dental experience and computer expertise and brought me on board to help develop the CBCT machine that I now train on internationally.
“They had the cone beam technology on the market previous to my hiring, but it had not been used successfully,” he adds. “The problem has been a knowledge gap between engineers and clinicians, with no one in between to translate and communicate. So that became my role as a consultant with Sirona and various other companies. I also engineered and designed them as part of Sirona’s research and development team. I spent time with a lot of surgeons in their local practices to help them understand the technology better, all while building my own private practice.
Dr. Patel’s expansive vision for Infinite Smiles grew out of his passion for the technologies he has helped develop, implement and teach. It made sense to incorporate them into the facility and they were ready to go when he first opened the doors.
“My business philosophy was simple,” he says. “These are the dental services I would want for myself, so that’s what my patients deserve. There was risk involved but I believed in the technology so much that I knew my patients would benefit. I believe my greatest gift is helping patients achieve optimal dental health, starting with that single aching or missing tooth and expanding to a full mouth. Limiting myself technologically, not having all the possible instruments available to do what I do best would be like asking an artist to draw or paint a scene with only two colors.
“At Infinite Smiles,” Dr. Patel adds, “we’re working with a full palette. Our name came from the fact that we are not limited by anything. For us, Infinite Smiles lead to endless possibilities.”