India on the cusp of a digital revolution

November 3, 2023

Some call Dr. Shiva Shankar “the father of digital dentistry in India.” Well-respected as a teacher and lab owner, Shiva stays on top of the most recent innovations by also being a lifelong learner. He explains how he utilizes the flexibility of exocad’s software for top-quality designs using his equipment of choice and how dentists are leading the next wave of India’s digital adoption. 

Q: How did you get your start in dentistry?

A: I did my graduate and postgraduate degrees in prosthodontics in 1998. I received my post-graduate degree at the M.R. Ambedkar Dental College in Bangalore. Once I finished my degree, as with every dentist, I wanted to start a dental practice of my own. Then I met a great person here in India who manufactures dental units. He asked me if I was interested in starting a dental laboratory.

I thought about it for a few days. I was a little taken aback because back then the dental lab field was not very well recognized in India. There were a few dental technicians working in small labs, and there were a couple of big guys in India who were looking into dental laboratories. But I decided why not? Everybody is doing some kind of specialization—whether it’s implants, maxillofacial or removable prosthetics. I will give it a try. That try has become 25 years today.

Q: In addition to being a dental lab owner and dentist, you’re also a teacher. How has being an educator influenced your digital journey?

A: I pursue my hobby of teaching because I love teaching and lecturing at dental colleges. Twenty years ago, when I started, there were very few dental lecturers. I taught through the ranks and became a college professor. I kept myself in both fields. For the first eight to 10 years, it was just regular dental laboratory science. In 2008, I visited Germany and went to IDS. I saw digital workflows and became enamored. I was one of the first people to get into digital dentistry in India on both the practice and the laboratory side.

Q: What was it that enamored you about digital dentistry?

A: I saw a CEREC poster of a ceramic block with a tooth. As a young postgraduate interested in dental technology, it was like a dream come true—the option to put in a block of material and, within 20-30 minutes, get a crown. Because generally, dental laboratories need a couple of days to make a crown. But with the new technology, you just put a ceramic block into the machine, and the machine mills out something. It's like magic. That's what captivated me.

Q: When did you get started with exocad?

A: Up to 2012 and 2013, I was with CEREC. Then I wanted to expand our laboratory services. At the time, we could only mill a 3-, 4- or 5-unit bridge. Then I visited a good friend of mine in Germany who introduced me to exocad.

Q: What was your first impression of exocad?

A: Before I was just doing next, next, next, and I was missing a lot of the tools that dental technicians have. When I found exocad’s DentalCAD, I was captivated. This software thinks like a dental technician. It has all the tools. For example, you can have a small wax knife, do a correction on your anatomy, develop your anatomy, and do a lot more things with it. DentalCAD has a lot of controls that we can use in our regular day-to-day work.

Q: Which exocad software do you currently use?

A: I use the most recent versions of DentalCAD, exoplan, and PartialCAD. I use all the features that exocad provides including partial dentures, complete dentures, single crowns, and complex implant restorations. exocad is the main software I use.

“Compared to other software, exocad has a completely open architecture. I can integrate any of my machines very seamlessly—from milling machines to metal 3D printers or regular 3D printers.”

Q: I know you use a lot of equipment from different manufacturers. How does exocad software work with the equipment you have?

A: That is one of the plus points of exocad. Compared to other software, exocad has a completely open architecture. I can integrate any of my machines very seamlessly—from milling machines to metal 3D printers or regular 3D printers. Even a beginner who wants to integrate more equipment into the work portfolio can very easily do it with exocad. Another plus point: exocad integrations are fast and easy. For instance, in the most recent DentalCAD version, most of the 3D printers are already pre-installed. The software automatically recognizes my 3D printer. The icon opens automatically on my task tool. I don't have to close down the exocad software, and then open the other software. I am really happy with that.

Q: What role do you think education plays in reducing software piracy?

A: If people do not understand the value of the software, they are not ready to spend the money. They say, “Why should I pay full price just to do a crown and bridge?” They don’t understand that a crown-and-bridge restoration is just the tip of the iceberg. You can do a lot more when you go deeper into the software. You have many solutions to the different problems facing you in your dental laboratory or day-to-day workflow. They also don’t understand how important it is to get the software updates and that they offer much more than a cosmetic change. The updates offer a real simplification of workflows. Education is one thing that helps people understand this.

“People will ask me if they’re on the right path for their restoration and I say, 'There is no right path. There is no wrong path. If the path is working for you, then it is the right one.'”

Q: You often say it’s important to never stop learning. As a teacher, why do you think it’s also important to be a student?

A: Since I am a trainer, I feel like I should stay one step ahead. When people have a problem and approach me, I want to have an answer. Though it often surprises others to see me at educational seminars. They’ll ask, “Why are you spending money to attend this program?” I tell them that every time I attend an education program, I learn about a new way to use a tool and that in CAD/CAM—there are no fixed workflows. People will ask me if they’re on the right path for their restoration, and I say, “There is no right path. There is no wrong path. If the path is working for you, then it is the right one.” I think it’s good to not get locked into one way of doing things but to collect knowledge from others on their individual approaches.

Q: Do you have a particular style or format you prefer for education?

A: I'm a little old school. I like in-person training because I find it’s easier to ask questions and get help. I also like online seminars for an introduction to the software. I recommend exocad’s YouTube channel. The best approach is probably a mix of different learning options.

Q: What current developments in India's dental field do you find interesting or important?

A: Digital dentistry is moving very fast in India with the influx of intraoral scanners. We are really on the cusp of the digital revolution happening in India. It's usually the clinicians who drive the market of the laboratories in India. There are labs that have been working digitally for a while, but the real push comes when the dentists get into the complete workflows. I’m also getting more requests from dentists who want to learn exocad software.

Q: What’s your favorite tooth?

A: A molar because you have so many variations in it, and you can play with the design artistically.

Q: If you could give advice to your younger self, what would you say?

A: Get more gadgets and become more tech-savvy.

Q: One word for exocad?

A: “Wow” because every time I start working with exocad, I find a new workflow.

Dr. Shiva Shankar is a prosthodontist by training. He has practiced as a consultant for a couple of years. Shiva was a teacher at the university and is now an Adjunct Professor of Digital Dentistry at Bapuji Dental College and Hospital. Shiva has run a dental laboratory since 2000. Since 2008, his main focus has been digital dentistry. He is presently the COO and CTO of Dantech Digital Dental Solutions Pvt. Ltd., a laboratory and design center for all kinds of digital workflows. Shiva was one of the first dentists in India to embrace digital technology in dentistry at a very early stage. He is also a trainer of exocad and digital technologies, conducting various workshops for the same. Shiva is a key opinion leader of leading digital technology companies. You can follow his work on Instagram and LinkedIn.

by Caitlan Reeg
Writer at exocad

Caitlan Reeg spends her days telling the world about the innovations her colleagues create. She’s passionate about healthcare, technology, and the ways the two interact to improve our lives. A former journalist, Caitlan has worked on staff at Dow Jones Newswires in Frankfurt and at the national public radio program Marketplace in Los Angeles.