Digital Impression Systems
In 1984, Sirona’s CEREC introduced the dental profession to the world of digital impressions. Because this was a closed system and could only be used for the fabrication of restorations using the CEREC milling system, many dentists were not exposed to the benefits of digital impressions.
Within the past decade, the profession has had access to digital impression systems that would allow dentists to digitally scan a preparation and electronically send that data to their lab for fabrication of the final restoration. With the opening up of this data and workflow, the profession has seen exponential growth in digital impressions, both in number of users and the number of manufacturers entering the market. Now that the scanning units are no longer tied to an in-office milling unit, more dentists are demonstrating interest in bringing digital impressions into their practices.
Digital impressions have many advantages in the modern dental practice. They have proven to be highly accurate, and offer operators the opportunity to evaluate the quality of their preparations and ensure that there is adequate occlusal reduction. This should allow for higher quality, longer lasting restorations and minimize future remakes. Incorporation of digital impressions will enable offices to reduce inventory—by reduction or elimination of conventional impression materials—and to streamline practice and laboratory workflow. Lastly, digital scanning can be more comfortable for patients than conventional impression techniques.
Barriers to adoption of digital impression technology, particularly cost of entry, have been an issue for many dentists. However, now that a number of competitive companies have entered the market, the price of this technology has begun to drop. Initially, the inability to scan full arches and for implants was also a concern, but today’s systems have the potential to do both.
There are currently several competitive companies offering digital impression equipment. Each brings its own technology, and with it, its own features and benefits.
Cadent and 3M were the first to come to market with digital scanning–only technology. These companies use different technologies to obtain the digital information. As is often the case, being first to market has given them a market share advantage.
Sirona and Planmeca (now partners with E4D Technologies) for years have provided dentists with a scanning and in-office milling option. Recently, each has split off its image-capturing technology to allow dentists to digitally scan impressions and then send the digital information to a favorite dental laboratory to fabricate their restorations. Market relative newcomers Carestream, Gendex, and 3Shape bring their own technological expertise to digital scanning to offer additional options.
Carestream, Gendex, and Planmeca have introduced the option of highly portable cameras (image-capturing devices); through a USB connection, they can be used in any operatory with a computer. This is intriguing in that it gets away from the “cart” system that has existed with other units, thereby decreasing the technology’s physical footprint as well as making it more portable.
Each of these systems has its differences and similarities. Some use still photography that is “stitched” together, whereas others use video capture. Some require the use of a “powder” to enhance image capture, whereas others do not. But each has demonstrated the ability to accurately capture and transmit the required data for the dental laboratory to fabricate the requested restorations.
Digital impression systems are destined to follow the same path as digital radiography. At this point, the “early adopters” phase is moving into the “becoming widely accepted” phase. Now, as more manufactures enter this market, more competitive pricing as well as wider use and acceptance in the US dental practice can be expected.
Gary M. Radz, DDS
Associate Clinical Professor
University of Colorado
School of Dentistry