Your tools of the trade as a dental professional can make all the difference in how effectively and successfully you perform your work.
In some instances, the above notion means finding the optimal traditional tools (e.g., drills, scalers, suction devices) that bolster performance. You take the time to adapt your choice of equipment to your specific needs and the types of patients you help.
However, as a dental professional looking to optimize patient results – thereby enhancing your practice’s reputation – you need to look beyond your standard tools.
If you haven’t upgraded yet, there’s no time like the present. We’re amid the technological revolution. So, it should be no surprise that there have been dental innovations in the digital space.
What Is Digital Dentistry?
Digital dentistry includes 3D printers and scanners, but goes beyond that specific scope. The term applies to any service bolstered by computers within a dental lab or practice.
Typically, the main benefits you’ll experience from such tools are increased precision and heightened efficiency.
Read on as we highlight areas of the average practice where digital dentistry is proving most impactful.
1. Restorations Using Digitized Models
Digitized models are used to help generate EMAX and PFM crowns, which are cut with 3D mills to ensure quality, ease of replication, and accuracy.
Digitally-enhanced implants first require dentists to use a scan body to capture a digital model. Before scanning the patient, a scan body must be inserted into the denture.
Doing so can create a digital model that displays the correct denture position.
When compared to gluing, modifying, test fitting, re-test fitting, screwing pieces together, etc., the digitized process is more precise and simplified. The patient experience is enhanced as it’s more streamlined and comfortable.
It’s also possible to design the properly-fitting teeth for a patient’s face in a 3D model and 3D print a mould of those teeth. You can then fill the printed mould with the white composite to provide patients with digitally-bonded veneers that help maintain the structure of their teeth.
2. Digital Diagnostic Tools and Recordkeeping
The digital revolution is taking dental diagnostics by storm. One instance involves intra-oral scanning systems that help locate cavities via infrared technology.
Prompt diagnoses and the ability to identify changes in oral health in real-time are made far easier by maintaining digital records of a patient’s mouth. A fully digital, paperless recordkeeping process is one of the latest trends in the dental industry, fast-forwarded by COVID-19 and the desire to go contactless.
When you digitize patient files, you can access them instantly, removing the need to shuffle through an endless pile of documents in a cabinet. Relevant files such as insurance information, clinical notes, x-rays, etc., are better organized by being saved in one, easily accessible digital file.
The heightened efficiency offered by having your records consolidated into one digital space keeps practice teams updated without the need to scour scattered, chaotic physical files.
For instance, 3D models of a patient’s mouth can be included in digital records. Historic scans and related files are also available.
Clearly, digital recordkeeping saves you and your team lots of time. But it also saves space, allowing you to store crucial information on a USB stick–not on plaster moulds.
3. Guided Dental Surgeries
As a growing trend in the dental space, guided surgeries are made possible by creating a digital model of a patient’s mouth. A CBCT scan and intra-oral scanner design a logical and pinpoint surgery plan.
Such tech can be used for oral surgeries ranging from a mere implant to an entire bone graft.
Advantages Of Digital Dentistry
Below are the indisputable advantages associated with digital dentistry. We’ll note that digital recordkeeping is omitted, but only because it was discussed in detail in the above section.
- Improved accuracy and efficiency: Using a computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) tech, prostheses can be made precisely and time-efficiently. Processes are also simplified when performing changes (e.g., fittings and colour) to a patient’s teeth or mouth.
- Instant feedback: Scans can quickly be sent to labs for verification purposes without your patient ever leaving the dental chair. You’ll know whether a scan is ideal right away, not wasting anybody’s time.
- Increased patient well-being: When held up next to traditional X-rays, digital radiography requires far lower radiation. Immediately, that’s a substantial health-based benefit for patients. Additionally, procedures that employ digital dentistry tools (e.g., mould creation) cause far less discomfort than non-digitized approaches. Patients also prefer the results because the feel, colour, and most other factors are vastly improved via digitization.
Use Cases for Digital Dentistry
To illustrate, here are some real-world examples where digital dentistry significantly improves procedures, vastly enhancing your work quality and patient experience.
Case Study: TMJ Rehabilitation
A case report from a few years ago examined the results of a 47-year-old male with temporomandibular joint (TMJ) symptoms. Aesthetically, he was worried about one of his veneers being chipped.
The patient was treated with a 100% digital workflow, which entailed:
- Utilizing the digital smile approach
- Employing the CAD-CAM-generate veneers and crowns
- A relatively non-invasive prep process
This rehabilitation was meant to prevent the loss of vertical dimension, help subside TMJ problems, and offset damage to other aesthetics.
Findings from the case report indicated how it’s possible to successfully solve issues such as loss of vertical dimension through 100% digitized approaches.
However, the report cites the need for further clinical studies to compile consistent results generated through these procedures from digitized dental workflows versus traditional techniques.
Case Study: Root Extraction and Restoration
A case study from Dentaltown looks at a situation where a hygienist discovered an external root resorption lesion on one of their patient’s teeth (#21).
Then, a CBCT helped determine that the tooth needed to be extracted. To close the space, the patient–after receiving advice from their practitioner–decided to receive an implant instead of orthodontic treatment.
The practitioner worked with the patient to outline their extraction plan, the healing timeline, the implant placement, and the time required for implant osseointegration and restoration.
Next, the patient was imaged in Cerec Ortho before the extraction. It allowed for bite registration and full-arch scanning, making it possible to print a 3D model used to copy the existing tooth shape into the implant restoration.
Practitioner-related stress was reduced with the more accurate digital impression because there’s no stone model to break by removing a thermoplastic retainer. 3D models are durable, but they can also be quickly reprinted if something does happen.
Furthermore, the practitioner found the 3D-printed model streamlined the implant placement process, acting as a guide.
Now, there was an issue the tooth #20 not leaving enough room for the implant. The patient elected for limited orthodontic movement aided by more 3D modelling that helped develop an aligner the patient would wear for 10 days to move tooth #20 accordingly.
After another aligner was used, the implant treatment was performed as scheduled and without a hitch.
According to the practitioner, one of the crucial advantages of the digitized process was using actual soft tissue contours to outline the parameters for the final restoration. Analog workflows don’t allow for such accuracy and precision.
It’s time for your practice to embrace the future. The right digital dental tools will vastly improve your performance, increase your return on investment, and offer better patient outcomes. There’s nothing more a dental professional can ask for!