Digital Dentistry Could Give Patients Reason to Smile
The next time you sit in a dental chair for tooth restoration work, your crown or denture could be created based on a 3D digital scan of your mouth.
But most likely it won’t be.
While the technology exists, and has for some time, the reality is that a relatively small percentage of dentists have embraced digital dentistry, leaving patients to endure uncomfortable procedures and in some cases ill-fitting results.
“About 95 percent of dentists still use the traditional method of having patients bite down into a mold filled with this gooey substance when they are making impressions for things like crowns,” says Chuck Stapleton, chief operating officer of Sun Dental Labs (www.sundentallabs.com).
“But I think patients can expect to see that change because dentistry is definitely going digital. It’s just a matter of time before the digital movement becomes more widespread because at some point patients will insist on it.”
Sun Dental Labs is among the companies staying on the leading edge of the digital-dentistry revolution. Sun Dental works with dentists on a digital “workflow” that involves using an intraoral scan that creates a digital impression of the patient’s mouth. The dentist can check the image right away on a laptop to make sure all is right with the impression. Then the image is sent electronically to the lab where dental technicians create the needed restoration.
“The dentist does the scan and we take it from there,” Stapleton says.
While there are advantages for the dentists, patients also have a lot to gain from the transition to digital, Stapleton says. Some of the benefits for them include:
- A more comfortable process. A digital scan is much less invasive than the current method for creating molds. There no need to bite into that goo and try to hold steady while fighting off gag reflexes.
- A more accurate fit. A traditional impression can be an imperfect method for creating a crown, denture or other restoration. It’s possible that the finished product won’t fit properly, requiring it to be sent back to the lab for another try. A new impression might even be needed. A digital scan provides more accurate results.
- Quicker turnaround. Dental patients typically wait two or three weeks before their bridge, crown or other restoration is completed. With the digital process, that turnaround time drops to three to five days.
Although they are in the minority at the moment, many dental offices already have gone digital – some of them years ago. In addition to making digital impressions, they also might use digital X-ray technology, electronic prescriptions, imaging for implant placement and digitally based surgical guides, among other technological tools.
Despite the advantages, the transition to digital hasn’t been as quick as it might have been. Compared to the way digital advancements have been embraced in other walks of life, dentistry is well behind where it could be, Stapleton says.
But that’s sure to change – and probably soon, he says.
“We have heard that this is one of the biggest concerns that dental students have,” he says. “They want to be part of an office that practices digital dentistry, so these younger dentists also are going to be pushing the profession to adapt to the newest technology.
“The movement has started and you can expect it to pick up steam. People will hear that a friend’s dentist has gone digital and they will start asking their dentists why they haven’t gone digital, too.”
Chuck Stapleton is chief operating officer for Sun Dental Labs (www.sundentallabs.com), a St. Petersburg, Fla.-based company that also has facilities in the United Kingdom, Sweden, France, the Netherlands, Germany and China. Stapleton has been involved with dentistry his entire life, starting at his father’s dental lab in Los Angeles more than 20 years ago. He has worked with digital dentistry products for over a decade and also led projects as a developer of computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacture systems.