The imprint of digital technology is seen everywhere in terms of offering better usability, convenience, cost-effectiveness, efficiency, responsiveness, competitiveness, and customer experience. Dentistry is one area where digital technology has slowly but steadily made inroads and transformed the sector by offering better diagnosis, treatment, and patient experience, making it Digital Dentistry. Digital technology like AI is revolutionizing Digital Smile Design.
Digital dentistry is the term mostly bandied about by professionals who have found the benefits hard to ignore. Digital dentistry is not about using computers to maintain patients’ records alone but utilizing computer-controlled technology in diagnosis and treatment. The various digital tools used by dentists include digital impression systems or intraoral scanners, digital X-rays, digital photography, 3D cone beam scanners, and guided implant placement, among others.
How does digital dentistry benefit
Technology is all about making things simple, easy, and convenient. If earlier, dentists depended on manual techniques to diagnose dental issues and prescribed specific treatment protocols, today, the times have changed. The dental tools have reduced the patients’ waiting time and quickened the workflow thereby achieving better patient experience, footfall, and revenue. The benefits of using such technology are:
Digital diagnostic or processing tools generate digital images of patients’ records or dental impressions, which can be easily and quickly sent to dental laboratories, specialists, or insurance providers. These eliminate the need to mail or physically deliver X-rays, bite impressions, or photos to the concerned department. Further, digital files reduce the treatment time as the dentist can view such images on a monitor instead of waiting for them to be developed. Digital impressions can be conveniently and seamlessly captured by an intraoral scanner without the need to develop messy physical moulds using alginates.
Precision in treatment:
Precise treatment protocol for any dental ailment can be pursued only when the diagnosis is spot on. Unlike the manual way of diagnosis where there may be room for error as the dentist cannot view every nook and corner of the patient’s buccal cavity, digital technology offers a 360-degree view. For example, a digital smile design tool can let patients know how they would look after undergoing a restorative, cosmetic, or orthodontic procedure. This way, guesswork is eliminated from treatment planning thereby reducing the chances of error by the laboratories where dental devices and restorations are crafted.
Oral health can improve drastically when any underlying ailment is detected quickly necessitating early intervention. So, the use of digital X-rays and intraoral scanners can detect cavities and other dental issues quickly and precisely. Such early diagnosis can prevent costly, in-depth, and painful interventions later.
Better record maintenance:
The manual way of maintaining and referencing patients’ records can be time-consuming, troublesome, and error-prone. Digital technologies can help dental clinics to maintain dental records of patients in a transparent, seamless, and convenient manner. People at the clinic can quickly access past treatment records, compare records for a better prognosis, and update any necessary information at the click of a button. Since there are no large physical records on paper to be stored, the chances of lost paperwork and sorting through reams are removed and the information is made private and secure.
How intraoral scanners have transformed dentistry
If digital dentistry has a transformative influence on improving patient care then intraoral scanners can be said to be the frontline devices driving such care. Before citing the benefits of these devices, let us first understand the challenges dental workflows face in the absence of such devices.
- Since dentists have to capture the accurate dental impressions and then mould them to align with the patients’ dental contours, the process is extremely time-consuming.
- The conventional technique of preparing moulds is quite messy and discomforting for the patients.
- Many times the patients have to revisit the dental clinic to recapture the dental contours for precise moulding. Needless to say, this can be extremely frustrating for the patients, dentists, and laboratories.
- Since patients have to hold alginates or wax materials in their mouth, they leave an unpleasant taste in the mouth, besides enduring the possibility of gagging.
How does an intraoral scanner work?
In digital dentistry, an intraoral scanner projects a ray of light (mostly laser) into the buccal cavity, especially in the area to be scanned. The scanner captures several images, which are subsequently processed by CAD/CAM software to generate a 3D model of the teeth. This way, the scanner captures optical impressions as the dentist passes the probe onto the patient’s teeth and gums. The impressions are displayed on the monitor in real-time and give the dentist a precise understanding of the condition of the teeth and gums.
The scanners eliminate the need to take conventional analog impressions and the use of hands-on fabrication processes for ceramic restorations. The CAD/CAM dentistry allows the designing of patient-specific dental crowns instead of using conventional materials and trays. The CAD/CAM software allows the dentists or laboratories to digitize, analyze, and tweak the scanned images rather than using pouring models.
Benefits of using intraoral scanners
The initial investment in an intraoral scanner notwithstanding the long-term benefits can simply outweigh and outscore the cost.
Saving cost on material and shipping:
The digital workflow eliminates the need to buy and store PVS or plaster material for creating tooth models. The digital impressions can be stored in a hard disk or cloud without the need to earmark physical spaces for storage.
Creating aesthetic restorations by following the analog workflow is time-consuming whereas taking digital impressions by using an intraoral scanner may take around five minutes. The best part is that there is no use of any impression material, no waiting for the PVS to dry, no messy surroundings, and no gagging of the patient. As the dentist saves time in diagnosis and treatment, he or she can attend to more number of patients and reduce the patients’ waiting time at the clinic.
Many dental patients suffer from anxiety in undergoing treatment, especially when it involves dental crowns, root canals, etc. The clear 3D images generated by an intraoral scanner offer better visualization for the patients who can view the condition of their teeth and gums. Based on the visuals the dentist can communicate with the patient about the need for a certain type of treatment, which is likely to find more acceptance.
Digital dentistry is the future and allows dentists to tweak their workflows and add to their stack of treatments – designing crowns, aligners, etc. It can attract more patient footfalls to the clinics and enhance the dentist-patient relationship. In the age of digital technology when every other sector is benefiting from embracing such a technology, there is no reason why the world of dentistry should stay away.
To know more about Digital Smile Design read our article- 5 Best Smile Design Software.