With its transformative power, digital dentistry is slowly taking over dental practices and laboratories all around the world. In a free webinar on Feb. 17, prosthodontist Dr. Ryan C. Lewis will talk about how digital dentistry can help improve workflow efficiency and will highlight some of the latest advancements in digital dentistry. Prior to his online presentation, he shared some thoughts on the topic.
Dr. Lewis, digital technologies are being taken up in dental practices worldwide. In your opinion, is it still possible to imagine dentistry without them?
Dental technology advances dentistry by increasing communication, efficiency and accuracy. The most important technologies that I currently utilize are CAD/CAM milling, intraoral scanning, digital implant planning, 3D printing and photography.
We initially integrate digital technology with CAD/CAM milling abutments and digitally design restorations. If we compare this to UCLA casting abutments and hand waxing porcelain-fused-to-metal restorations, we do not only save significantly on our gold costs, but we are also able to increase the efficiency of fabricating the restorations. If we then consider intraoral scanning and the ability to digitally submit cases to the laboratory, plus the savings in impression material, shipping costs, time to ship, and cases getting lost or delayed in shipping, it is easy to appreciate the benefits that digital dentistry offers.
“3D printing has changed the way that we produce surgical guides”
All of my implant cases are now digitally planned. After using digital planning and fully guided surgery, my surgeon no longer wants to place implants the traditional way. It provides peace of mind knowing that the implant will be positioned ideally, the referring doctor will be happy with the work and the patient will have the desired outcome.
3D printing has changed the way that we produce surgical guides. 3D printers have become so accurate and inexpensive that any dentist can now afford to have them in his or her office and print surgical guides as well as casts for diagnostic purposes or aligners at a relatively low cost.
Additionally, photography has become essential when communicating with my dental technicians. The accuracy and quality of my restorations would suffer significantly without it.
What are some of the latest, most notable advances in digital dentistry?
Digital implant treatment planning, intraoral scanning and 3D printing. With digital implant treatment planning, we can significantly improve the accuracy of our implant position. We now can integrate facial scans and intraoral scans without full-arch digital wax-ups. This ensures that we are accurately planning our new tooth positions. Because our digital diagnostic wax-ups are so accurate, we can also plan our full-arch implant positions with confidence. This allows us to place implants immediately at the time of extraction in cases where we would have previously recommended extraction of teeth and healing first.
3D printing is now very predictable and accurate. It allows us to print the surgical guides in the office without worry or concern about the accuracy of the guide. My full-arch immediate load provisionals are printed on the same printer as my surgical guides.
Dental laboratories seem more ready and willing to adopt digital solutions compared with dental clinics. How do you think this could be explained?
Digital technology greatly increases the efficiency of the technician. This decreases overhead expenses and treatment costs. It also increases the accuracy of the restorations. Many laboratories now report that digitally designed and milled crowns provide the lowest number of remakes by percentage out of any product they offer. Typically, these are modeless crowns that are manufactured without a printed or stone cast. From the laboratory perspective, it is a great tool to utilize.
For many dentists, the new technology changes their workflow significantly and takes time to integrate into their traditional workflow. Because of this and the startup costs, it is difficult to switch to digital dentistry when using a traditional pathway has brought success in the past. However, as in my practice, once the digital pathways have been integrated, going back to a traditional one would increase overhead and decrease efficiency significantly.
“Intraoral scanning offers the safest solution, the one with the least risk of cross-contamination”
How has the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic changed your view, or that of your colleagues, on the relevance of digital dentistry and the importance of adopting digital solutions?
The pandemic has highlighted the potential contamination risks associated with transferring impressions or other components from the patient to the laboratory. Intraoral scanning offers the safest solution, the one with the least risk of cross-contamination. Unfortunately, this is a problem that is likely not going to go away any time soon, so this is great not only now, but also as we move forward into the future.
Editorial note: The webinar, titled “Advancements in contemporary digital dentistry,” will be presented live on Wednesday, Feb. 17, at 7 p.m. EST. Participants will have the opportunity to ask questions about the topic upon completion and to earn a continuing education credit. Registration on the Straumann Campus website is free of charge.