Digital Dentistry Transforms Orthodontics in Important Ways
Digital dentistry is bringing rapid transformation to orthodontics with digital workflows that have shown increased efficiency, consistently high quality, and lower costs. In fact, additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, has impacted many industries. However, few benefit as much as dentistry and other medical fields. That is because 3D printing technologies are at their best in an environment where our unique bodies require custom solutions.
Low-Cost Mass Customization
While dentistry has always required high levels of customization, the industry has traditionally relied mostly on manual methods to create custom appliances. Today, digital dentistry workflows enable mass customization in a consistent, automated way, requiring less labor and incurring lower costs.
Everyone has a pattern of development and arrangement of teeth that is unique to them. Dental indications must, therefore, be made to match each individual patient. With traditional manual workflows, the quality of the finished product depends on the skills of the technician. Achieving consistent and high-quality dental products can be difficult when human error is a factor.
Digital technologies simplify workflows and reduce the room for error. In addition, they reduce the amount of labor, resulting in time and cost savings for the lab and the practice.
Disrupting Orthodontics With Clear Aligners
Orthodontics as a dental specialty has come a long way since traditional metal-wired braces. While still necessary in some complex cases, removable clear aligners provide an appealing alternative today and have been used to treat millions of patients.
Clear aligners couldn’t exist without digital technologies; their manufacturing process is a brilliant combination of multiple digital workflows. An orthodontist or dentist first captures an impression of a patient’s dentition with a 3D intraoral scanner or takes a traditional impression for the lab to scan. The digital model provides a basis to plan the progressive stages between the current and desired teeth positions. Each stage is then 3D printed and the aligners are thermoformed over these 3D printed molds.
Traditionally, the 3D printers used in this process were large and complex to use and prohibitively expensive. Now, smaller format desktop 3D printers can create molds for thermoformed appliances, opening up the possibility for any lab or practice to produce aligners and retainers in-house and expand production without adding substantial overhead.
Digital technologies can augment complex surgical procedures. CBCT, virtual placement planning, and surgical guides are becoming the new standards of care in implantology. With them, the accuracy of implant placement during surgery is all but guaranteed as the risk of surgical complications is reduced, and clinical results are improved overall. Let’s look at the workflow-enhanced production of a surgical guide as an example.
To create a guide, dentists making implants combine intraoral scan data of a patient’s dentition and anatomy of the patient osteotomy from a CBCT or cone beam scanner. Based on the anatomical data, practitioners use CAD software to plan treatment with high accuracy and then use a 3D printer to produce a guide that is ready to be used in surgery.
Formerly, the only ways of producing surgical guides were through milling or 3D printing on industrial 3D printers. But due to the complex and expensive machinery involved, these guides could easily cost hundreds of dollars. This often made them cost-prohibitive in many cases. Now with 3D printing on your desktop, the costs are down by a factor of 10+ or more times, paving the way for guided surgeries to become the standard.
Traditional denture manufacturing is a time-consuming and labor-intensive analog workflow. It involves multiple patient visits and production steps. In fact, it is a complex craft with a steep learning curve. Dental labs increasingly struggle to find technicians with the advanced skills and expertise required to produce them.
Dentures are one of the latest innovations in digital dentistry. They offer an efficient and cost-effective manufacturing solution. Finally, a major step toward the overall simplification of the dental laboratory manufacturing process.
Denture production with the digital workflow includes fewer steps and less variability. As a result, it is a more consistent workflow with a high-quality end product every time. Digital denture designs are also reusable. Plus, they are shareable, modifiable, and easy to reproduce with 3D printing. The affordable hardware, lower material costs, and time savings all contribute to a substantial cost advantage over handcrafted counterparts.
Scanning solutions, software tools, and materials are developing rapidly to take digital dentures to their full potential. As they do, digital dentures are bound to replace or supplement the traditional workflow for an increasing share of the 50 million dentures produced a year globally and pave the way for more inclusive denture solutions for everyone who needs treatment.
Better Patient Experience
At the end of the day, it’s the patients who gain the most from advances in digital dentistry. Highly detailed replicas help patients envision and better understand the treatment.
Of course, the ability to visualize a dental procedure can be as reassuring for the patient as it is helpful for the practitioner. Virtual treatment planning not only helps patients envision and understand the treatment they receive, but it also reduces anxiety and increases patient acceptance.
Precise, consistent treatments mean that patients are less likely to need repeat work for the same problem which saves them time and money. And every good business owner knows that a satisfied customer is more likely to become a return customer and refer others, contributing to the long-term success of your dental practice.
Get Started with Digital Dentistry
These are just a few ways that digital dentistry and 3D printing processes are bringing positive change to the dental and orthodontic industry.
Successful contemporary dental workflows can combine the best of both traditional and digital practices. Consider digital workflows when it comes to finding strategies and solutions for new challenges, opening the door to possibilities and even making improvements in your current patient processes.
Learn more about how Straight Forward Lab is driving this change.