The word on everyone’s lip in 2016 is “digital” and it seems like this trend is sweeping over every industry showing no signs of slowing, this even includes the world of dentistry. Where we once relied heavily on mechanical tools, we are now, faster than ever before, adopting new technologies that increase efficiency and accuracy. Digital dentistry covers any dental technology or device that incorporates digital or computer-controlled components in contrast to that of mechanical or electrical alone.

CAD/CAM Dentistry

CAD/CAM is the method of using Computer Aided Design and Computer Aided Manufacturing to assist with dental restoration, specifically; dental crowns, veneers and dental implants etc. Most people see this technology as fairly new, but in fact it’s been around since the 1980s, though in the beginning it was seen more as a novelty due to the cumbersome nature of the machinery. Only in the last 15 years has the technology really taken off. CAD/CAM has allowed for tooth restoration to look more natural, be more durable and fit the mouth better than the restorations of previous years.

    • Restorations are designed on a computer screen by capturing the image of the mouth using an optical scanner. The most revolutionary technology on the market is the CERC omnicam 4.2. The scanner takes an exact replica of your mouth, all in natural colour without the need for unpleasant tasting coating that previous scanners used to enhance the details of the mouth. What’s more Digital impressions prevent the need for impression materials to be placed in your mouth for long periods of time.
    • CAD software is then used to create the restoration; the time taken to do this varies depending on the complexity of the case and if the dental practice you visit has their own CAM technology in house. The creation will take longer if the restoration is sent to an external dental laboratory.
    • The restoration is manufactured using milling or printing the material, this uses the separate CAM technology.


Benefits of Digital Dentistry

Digital dentistry benefits patients who suffer dental anxiety; in a survey by the British Dental Health Foundation, 36% of those who didn’t see a dentist regularly said that fear was the main reason. There is no need for uncomfortable impression materials to be placed in the mouth for a long duration when a digital impression is made. What’s more, for those practices that have their own CAM technology, the patient will not have to make return visits adding their anxiety.

Other benefits include:

  • Improved efficiency, in both time and cost.
  • Improved accuracy in comparison to previous methods, the accuracy of the shape of your new teeth will prevent gaps between crowns and surrounding teeth.
  • A high level of predictability of restorations

Does Digital Dentistry mean the end for Technicians?

In many technicians’ minds, they feel their industry is over as advances in digital scanning and 3D technology means that dentist’s manufacturing needs can now be handled on-site, rather than outsourced. Patients can now have their teeth scanned at the surgery and have crowns created while they wait. A process that once took a fortnight is now condensed into one to two hours. Though how true are these worries? Thankfully, dental technicians can breathe a sigh of relief as these worries do not substantiate into real life.

In recent years, 3D printing has certainly become more prominent, but CAD/CAM has been around, in fact, for over 25 years throughout the UK and USA but has simply never taken off. This is due to the staff at the dental practices being unwilling to take on the steep learning curve the technology demands. Those who have undertaken the task of controlling their own manufacturing tend to only make single posterior crowns. Anything more complex is sent off in the traditional fashion to the lab, or the practices have a full time technician hired on site in order to use the equipment to its full potential.

The reason dental practices are not taking up this technology is because those who can afford the expenditure on the new technology simply do not feel comfortable using it, whereas the younger generation who are at ease with digital technology don’t have the funds available to invest in production facilities.

Highly skilled technicians will always be needed in the dental industry, so it’s vital their skills are upheld. Their skills will continue to be needed in order to operate the machinery and ensure the best possible outcome for patients.

The future of Digital Dentistry

The future of digital dentistry is extremely bright and the advances that were once only available to the minority are becoming more mainstream. One of the major driving forces for the technology is the advanced care of patients who undergo treatment and the improved results of the materials created in comparison to older technology. Digital dentistry is here to stay, and for those who have the ability to invest in this technology should do so, as failing to integrate may leave your practice out of touch in the upcoming years.

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