In the 17th and 18th centuries, progressive forms of dentistry included mercury-based amalgam fillings and false teeth carved from animal bone and ivory. Today, the thought of that as ‘cutting edge’ makes us squirm. But it brings some perspective to just how far modern dentistry has come.
The most recent innovation that’s got us excited (especially Dr Luke Christensen!) is the arrival of digital dental treatment in Australia. Like so many advancements in dentistry, ‘going digital’ makes dentistry easier for dentists and more comfortable for patients.
If you’ve never heard of digital dental treatment before, then this guide is packed with patient-friendly information about this whizzy approach to dentistry.
What is digital dentistry?
Digital dentistry uses digital technologies and computers. It involves a small wand camera — called an intra-oral scanner — that’s connected to a computer. During treatment, the dentist moves the scanner around a patient’s mouth, capturing 3D colour images of the teeth and gums. Scanned images are fed into a computer so the dentist can use them for implant and crown procedures or for designing veneers and bridges.
These tools and innovations replace the need for uncomfortable gooey impressions and x-rays. Plus, digital dentistry is considered more accurate and time-efficient. For you, this means fewer trips to the dentist and shorter treatment times.
You may hear digital dentistry called ‘CAD/CAM dentistry.’ This stands for ‘computer aided design’ and ‘computer aided manufacturing.’ Digital dental equipment, software and 3D printing are often used for designing and milling resin, ceramic crowns. So if a practice has these gadgets they can do more of the treatment work on site.
The benefits of digital dentistry
- It’s more comfortable than gooey impressions.
- Scanning the entire mouth takes 10 minutes or less.
- Images work with innovative software that gives dentists more accurate modelling and insight.
- Works with 3D printing and CAM technology. Implants, crowns, veneers, bridges and splints can all be made on-site in days, rather than taking weeks.
What to expect when digital dentistry is part of your treatment plan
The first step is creating a digital, 3D impression of your mouth. Your dentist will move a small intra-oral scanner around your teeth and gums. Images appear on a monitor. If you’re curious to see a detailed picture of your mouth and teeth your dentist can position the screen so you can see what’s going on, as it happens.
The scanner is smooth, measures around three inches and isn’t much thicker than the head of a large toothbrush. Although the dentist may prod around to get the images they need, intra-oral scanning is considered a lot more comfortable and quicker than gooey impressions. Imaging and scanning generally take 10 minutes or less. When scanning is complete the captured images are fed into a computer, creating the 3D model of your mouth or tooth for your dentist to look at.
The next steps depend on the treatment you’re having done and your dentist should discuss the options available to you.
Digital dentistry for implants
Implants are a screw-like fitting implanted into the jawbone. They do the same job as a natural tooth’s root. Placing an implant is a precise art. Fortunately, digital dental tools make the process easier.
Using a combination of your scanned images and specialist software, dentists plan the entire implant process. They can see exactly where the screw will go, how it will sit inside the jawbone and how it will look once the crown is fitted. It even shows them nerve positions and bone density.
A surgical guide containing all of this information is made and printed on a 3D printer. It’s then placed in the patient’s mouth for the procedure. Using digital dentistry for dental implants reduces the risk of surprises, which speeds the process up.
Same day crowns and veneers
Restorative dentistry refers to the need for crowns, veneers, bridges and dentures. Before digital dentistry, making these items could take anywhere between a week and a month because the work was done offsite.
CAD/CAM dentistry expands how much can be done in a dental practice. For example, crowns, inlays/onlays and veneers can be designed and milled on site using the data from the scanner. And because the images are in colour, they can be easily painted to match your natural tooth colour.
This may take one day or be done over a weekend. In either case, you have more flexibility when it comes to fitting dental appointments around your schedule, rather than waiting on external manufacturers.
The possibilities are huge
Our core belief is that a patient’s time in the chair should be as comfortable as possible. We also want to help minimise how often someone needs to visit. Digital dentistry helps us realise those beliefs, which is why we’re
a little very, very excited to offer digital dentistry to Keppel Dental patients.
At the moment the technology is assisting us with implant procedures, crowns and splint design and printing. In the near future, we hope to extend this to make dentures on site, too.
You can find out more about treatment and service here, or ask your dentist about it at your next appointment.