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30 November 2023

Digital Dentistry How Technology is Revolutionizing Dental Care

Advances in science and technology have dramatically altered everyday life as everything now seems to be faster, simpler and more precise than was the case in years gone by. 

Computerisation rules almost every aspect of professional activity — and the field of dentistry has not been slow to embrace and utilize the new technologies now available. Digital dentistry has truly arrived!

The Era of Digital Dentistry 

As is the case in most areas, dentistry has new and advanced techniques for treating dental issues. Broadly speaking, digital dentistry is a catch-all term for all forms of technology that uses computers with specialised hardware and software to provide treatment with the assistance of computer-aided devices and tools.

Among the many new technologies now widely used is digital scanning which allows the dentist to perform a wide range of dental work including:

Conducting oral examinations

Taking dental impressions

Carrying out diagnostics

Devising treatment plans

Using computers speeds up the process and affords a greater degree of accuracy than is the case with traditional manual examinations and the making of impressions of the teeth and gums. 

Oral appliances such as implants, bridges, crowns and dentures can now be constructed to a higher degree of accuracy and in far less time than would be the case with traditional dentistry.

Not New, But Not Widespread

The concept of using computers to assist with dental procedures first appeared in 1984 when Doctor Francois Duret, a French dentist, saw the potential for applying computer-aided design (CAD) technology to dental requirements. After all, if CAD could be utilized to design and construct buildings why could the same technology not be applied to the field of dental care.

In the decades since Duret’s moment of inspiration, many dentists and dental professionals have invented numerous digital solutions to dental problems as digital dentistry slowly grew in popularity. 

Despite the advances, however, this relatively new form of dentistry is still not widespread with approximately 85% of dental surgeries globally still opting to take dental impressions in the traditional manner using an impression tray and outsource the manufacture of dental appliances to a third party.

Digital Dentistry Applications

From diagnosis to manufacture, digital dentistry in now being used for a variety of purposes.

Scanning. Precision scanning of the teeth and gums allows the dental professional to take exact images of all the teeth which can be output to produce a 3D replica.

Imaging. Dental Cone Beam scanners allow a dentist to take digital X-rays of the entire mouth, teeth, gums and bone structure.

Used in conjunction, dental scanners and imaging equipment can produce extremely detailed and precise images and 3D replicas of a patient’s teeth which is more precise than the traditional method of taking impressions using a dental tray filled with a plastic resin. With the right equipment, a skilled dentist can even detect the smallest defects on the teeth and spot the earliest signs of developing cavities.

Computer-Aided Design in Dentistry

More commonly associated with design and manufacture, computer-aided design (CAD) now also plays a role in modern dentistry. Using specific dental software programs, it is now possible for dental technicians to design and construct many dental appliances including among others:

Dental bridges

Dentures

Veneers

Crowns

Onlays and inlays

With the introduction of 3D printers, dental care took another step into the future as many dental fittings (crowns, dentures, teeth aligners etc.) can now be directly manufactured from the CAD images.

CAD can be used not only for physical design work and manufacture but is also a useful tool in planning dental treatments making the entire treatment process more streamlined, faster and more cost-effective as the entire process, from diagnosis to cure, can be greatly accelerated.

Streamlined Process

Regardless of the dental issue to hand, digital dentistry streamlines the process of receiving treatment. From start to finish, the process can usually be handled in one location thus eliminating the need for visits to specialist to have dental appliances designed and made to measure.

Scanning, impression making, 3D design and printing will usually be handled in one office and the treatment schedule fine-tuned by the dental professional in charge of the individual case.

Diagnosis and treatment using digital dentistry is done in three steps:

  1. Digital scanning and/or impression taking which can take just five minutes or less
  2. CAD design of any necessary dental fittings or restorations
  3. 3D printing of required dental appliances or fittings

In addition, dental software programs can be used to ensure the best outcome for patients including better fitting dental appliances, detailed recovery plan and the avoidance of possible adverse reactions.

Into the Future

Although digital dentistry cannot be considered as mainstream at present the situation is constantly changing and evolving. In Canada and the United States around 30% of dental practices currently use digital systems while the percentage varies from 10% to 30% across Europe. 

However, the numbers are steadily increasing as more dentists and dental technicians receive training and become more receptive to modern methods of dental care.

Recent research shows a high satisfaction level among not just dentists who use digital technology but also among patients who have received this form of treatment. Slowly but surely the traditional dental practices are moving into the future and the future is digital!

 

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