Optimizing Digital Technology
In your experience, what have been the most useful techniques for optimizing digital technology collaboratively, and what types of cases benefit most from using these technologies and techniques?
John Weston, DDS, FAACD
An explosion of technology has flooded our profession over the past few years. The decision has become not if you will adopt, but when, how, and what digital tools you will employ. My goal has been finding ways to simplify and foster more predictability for my anterior cosmetic veneer and implant cases. I have found the best value using a combination of full-arch digital impressions, digital smile design, and 3D radiography for larger, more complicated cases.
Digital impressions for larger, multi-unit anterior ceramic cases are closing the gap between eliminating traditional analog procedures and converting to purely digital workflows. Once a clinician is proficient at full-arch scanning, the precision, predictability, and time savings seen with single-unit posterior crowns can become a reality with smile cases and even full-mouth rehabilitation.
Digital smile design allows dentists to integrate facially driven esthetics with better laboratory communication through collaborative virtual image analysis. A higher level of patient consensus can be achieved via digitally designed and milled cosmetic mockups. Trial smiles are an important step that previously relied on wax or intraoral freehand methods.
With the ability to merge 3D cone-beam images with digital impressions, a virtual collaborative process between surgeon, restorative doctor, and laboratory technician becomes the norm. By incorporating smile design and virtual implant planning, we improve success and predictability while reducing invasive surgical techniques previously required.
For years, laboratories have been converting analog impressions into digital data to fit into their workflows. Dentists are only now starting to close the loop and present laboratories with truly digital clinical data, and we are not going backward as analog processes continue to fade out. Technology improves quickly, so those who have not started to adopt these new technologies may quickly find themselves behind the curve.
Todd Cochran, CDT, AAACD
In the last several years, dentistry has changed drastically. Although digital dentistry has already been a force for many years, the direction we are headed in is clear. Technology changes rapidly, and being on the forefront of digital impressioning, we have seen an increase in dentists utilizing these new tools. The way that information is shared has improved. With the emergence of digital smile design, treatment-planning tools in implantology, and information-sharing platforms, we are able to plan treatments and share the information instantaneously.
With digital impressioning, we could see great advantages early on with simple cases. Working with John Weston, DDS, FAACD, in the infancy stages of intraoral scanner use, we began to push the boundaries of this technology and quickly found that more complex cases could be predictably treated as well. With laboratories having the ability to take the STL files from digital impressions and import them directly into the CAD software of their choice, time and cost savings are clear benefits. Technicians have been forced to find ways to work more efficiently and effectively in order to stay relevant. As technology continues to progress, we must open our minds to new possibilities.
Model printing is becoming more accurate and affordable. Utilizing an STL file, we have the ability to design the restorations and a model simultaneously—streamlining the process, increasing profits, and saving time.
In an effort to conserve adjacent tooth structures, utilizing implants and custom implant abutments is becoming a more common method for replacing missing teeth. The implementation of digital technology is efficient, more predicable, and less costly.
While it is an exciting time to be in dentistry, change does not come without its challenges. Communication and collaboration among the restorative team is more important than ever, and technology has made that more effective.