Digital dentistry is going to be something we hear more and more about. We've covered the policy implications for dentists, but I wanted to highlight some of the clinical implications, especially for younger dentists out there.
Digital technology and advances aren't currently covered in great detail in undergraduate programmes so I hope this brief overview of computer aided design (CAD) and computer aided manufacture (CAM) stimulates interest to learn more, as this will, and already is affecting your daily practice.
The revolution of digital scanners replacing conventional impressions is here. I routinely use an itero scanner for a lot of my work. Another big brand is a trios scanner. You can use it for crown, bridge, study models, wax ups, monitoring tooth wear, implant work and Invisalign cases.
To take Implant impressions you need a special implant impression coping called a scan flag (see an example below), but is very similar to standard Implant impression copings.
A quick pubmed search of all reviews on digital impressions will show mixed results, and more research is needed to determine if it fully supercedes convention impressions. For dentures nothing replaces conventional impressions, due to the need for soft tissue compression at this point.
With implants you can now produce custom abutments from any type of impression (digital or analogue) with a very high level of accuracy.
Your technician can plan how much support the soft tissues will get on the restoration and where the margin will be, and this is fully designed on a computer.
Using digital tech for implants
If you are placing implants ct scans are now routinely requested. The data has to be interpreted on digital software and planned digitally.
You can place an implant on the computer in the ideal position to determine if more complex surgery is needed or if it is a simple procedure. The scan can be used to produce surgical guides to place the implant, from importing the ct scan to the right software.
You can add the digital wax up to the CT scan to show your patient what exactly you are going to do for them.
CAD for crowns
For computer aided manufacture most of your crowns are likely to be milled now. This is when they are cut down from a block of material.
The other techniques are additive techniques using 3D printing and laser-scintering. Most materials can be used in both techniques.
Both are more accurate than the lost wax technique which is also highly technique sensitive and labour intensive.
The challenge of keeping up to date
It's an exciting time to be a young dentist, but keeping up to date is very challenging, especially with the fast pace that digital technology is expanding at.
I hope this brief overview stimulates some interest and learning – get in touch if you have any comments or questions, or just to let us know if you'd like to see more of topics like this one.
Young Dentist Committee member
Suporting your learning and career development: BDA Library
Our library has a wealth of resources that can help with your learning and development in dentistry. We have a package of articles on 3D printing and 3D imaging, available free for members to loan, as well as a range of books, get in touch if you'd like to find out more.