We’re living in a time where every industry is rapidly transforming due to the pace at which new technology is developing – and dentistry is no exception. In fact, many dental practices have already adopted the latest software and hardware to ensure that they remain efficient and equipped to meet their patients’ needs. Not too long ago, cutting-edge digital solutions were unaffordable and only readily available to a few. The good news is that technological advancements are becoming more prevalent and, consequently, affordable and accessible to everyone in the dental industry. Let’s take a closer look at how moving from analogue to digital workflows in dentistry have allowed dental professionals to work smarter and why patients are ultimately the biggest beneficiaries.
What is digital dentistry & what are the benefits of going digital?
Basically, digital dentistry refers to any dental technology, device or equipment that makes use of digital or computer-based elements. A digitalised workflow holds many advantages for dental practices, including:
-Increased consistency, accuracy and precision.
Dentists, dental assistants and technicians are only human beings, and the quality of treatments or dental products is greatly dependent on their knowledge, skills and craftsmanship. Realistically, there’s always a chance of errors slipping in. Transitioning into a digital workflow minimises the scope for human error and ensures quality, consistency, accuracy and precision.
-Time and cost-efficiency
Digital dentistry makes dental work far more efficient by streamlining processes, allowing for shorter appointments and dental professionals to focus on the most critical tasks. What’s more, technology simplifies design and reduces the manufacturing time of dental surgical tools and prosthesis, which can be produced in hours as opposed to days. Digitalising saves money by eliminating the need for certain supplies (e.g. impression materials) and courier services necessary in a traditional workflow.
-Enhanced communication and collaboration
Clear communication between dentists and labs is essential. CAD/CAM software allows dentists to instantly send information, scans and 3D images to labs, which lets technicians collaborate in treatment planning, design and manufacturing of dental prosthesis.
-Better patient experience
Technology makes visiting the dentist’s office significantly more positive, less invasive and super comfortable for patients. Of course, they also benefit from improved aesthetics, fewer return visits and higher quality implants with a better fit.
All of these factors culminate in a competitive advantage, and the business will gain the reputation of being the go-to practice for quick and top-quality work.
What does a basic digital workflow in dentistry look like & what equipment or software is necessary?
While treatment speciality varies between dentists, periodontists, orthodontists, prosthodontist and implantologists, all dental professionals follow the same basic digital workflow in dentistry.
Digital cameras and editing software
High quality yet affordable digital cameras and editing software are incredibly useful tools that can enhance any dental practice. Digital images are particularly valuable to dental professionals when communicating with patients or dental laboratories. Despite its undeniable usefulness, taking digital photographs is still not the norm for many practices.
By taking facial, extra-oral and intra-oral photos from different angles, dental professionals can give patients a different perspective on their own smiles or a closer look at the inside of their mouths. For the dental professional, it is also all about seeing the hard and soft tissue, occlusal relationship, adjacent teeth, midline discrepancies and symmetry etc. When it comes to explaining different treatment options, photos assist in bringing the practitioner and patient on the same page, allowing them to agree on the way forward confidently. It can also be useful to monitor the progression of disease or treatment outcomes.
What’s more, by supplementing written instructions with photographs, dental professionals can clearly communicate with dental technicians about considerations, such as tooth or gingival shade, characterisation and morphology.
On the odd chance that patient expectations aren’t met and they decide to get legal help, digital photographs provide a medico-legal record. This is especially relevant in cases involving implant surgery, placement ceramic crowns, and smile enhancements.
It’s also worth noting that imagery can play a significant role in boosting marketing initiatives. Clinical photos are ideal for a practice’s website, social media and other marketing material. Internally, it’s valuable for training and illustrating treatment procedures.
Intra-Oral Scanners (IOSs)
Intra-oral scanners have been around for many years, and this technology has considerably improved the experience of taking dental impressions for dentists and patients. Scanning a patient only takes a few minutes, and a 3D impression of the dental arches displays on a screen almost immediately. Additionally, the use of digital scanners is more comfortable than the old moulding technique. There is no need to wait for the PVS to dry, no gagging, lousy taste or mess. While intra-oral scanners are just as accurate as analogue impressions, going digital removes the risk of manual error and reduces the chances of having to retake impressions.
Dental Cone-Beam Computed Tomography (CBCT)
Over the last few years, CBCT has become more widely available and less expensive, replacing the use of dental X-rays in many practices. 3D CBCT images provide more detailed information than conventional 2D X-rays, enabling dental professionals to make a more accurate diagnosis and create effective treatment plans. In under a minute, dental professionals can do a virtual examination of a patient’s mouth (including the teeth, soft tissue, and bone) from all angles. When it comes to dental implants, the use of CBCT scans ensures safe and predictable treatments. Scans can be used to do virtual implant placement, aiding the practitioner to select the correct implant type, size and to place it with precision and accuracy. Additionally, CBCT scanners expose patients to less radiation than regular CT scanners.
Digital Smile Design Software
Unfortunately, not all dental professionals offer Digital Smile Design (DSD) planning protocol. While treating biological and functional dental issues is a priority, it’s essential to keep in mind that most patients desire a beautiful smile that suits their physical characteristics. Digital Smile Design allows dental professionals to use photos and videos to analyse a patient’s facial and dental proportions. The technology helps dentists to gain a better understanding of the relationship between a patient’s teeth, gums, lips, smile and their other facial features, also taking into account motion and emotional expressions. Mock-ups are generated and presented to patients before treatment, and they can essentially collaborate with the dental professional on what they want their smile to look like, ensuring a result that’s technically sound and meets personal needs.
CAD/CAM technology is popular in dentistry and can be used by dental labs and practices to design and manufacture dental prostheses, such as inlays, onlays, veneers, crowns, implant abutments and more. Milling machines can even fabricate dentures. Dentists can either do the impression scans and send it to the lab to manufacture or do it in-house.
In some situations, patients can even receive a permanent restoration on the same day they come in, without the need for provisional restoration. However, a dental practice would need an in-house milling machine which eliminates the need for a technician to fabricate the tooth. Typically, final prosthetics or dental restorations are milled by subtracting from solid blocks of ceramic or composite resin that accurately match the shade and texture of the restored tooth.
3D printing is changing the game. Many cutting-edge dental labs (and even some practices) use 3D printers as an add-on to fabricate dental models and surgical tools, such as drill guides, splints, retainers and provisional crowns. There are countless ways to utilise 3D printing in dental work, bringing a new level of speed and convenience.
Creating temporary crowns with a 3D printer has become amazingly fast and straightforward. After the dental professional has taken scans and created a model of the crown, it can be printed using a special resin in less than half an hour, depending on the machine.
Dental surgery has to be precise to ensure the best possible outcome. Again, using the scans in conjunction with the dental professional’s treatment plan, surgical guides can be printed that fits a specific patient’s mouth perfectly. What’s more, 3D printers can also print a model of the patient’s mouth to check that implant or crowns fit exactly before surgery.
I want to digitise my practice, what should I keep in mind?
It’s a good idea to take some time and apply some strategic thought to how you want your practice to evolve. Reach out to a peer or colleague at another practice or lab who has implemented or started to implement a digital workflow and ask for advice. It might even be a good idea to sit in on a couple of appointments to see how everything works and comes together. From there, do some research and start introducing new technologies, software and devices gradually, based on how you want to improve your services. You should also reach out to your staff and find out what they think will make their jobs easier, and be open to facilitating the necessary training if required. Then it is just a matter of scaling up and, ultimately, providing the best for patients.
Expand your knowledge on Digital Workflows in Dentistry
It’s also advisable to look into insightful and helpful training. The Implant and Aesthetic Academy’s Basic Interdisciplinary Digital Dentistry Course covers theoretical and hands-on training for a comprehensive overview. Be sure to sign up now!
Enhance your dental surgery skills and expand your knowledge with one of The Implant and Aesthetic Academy’s comprehensive implantology courses.