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    The state of intraoral scanning

    Exploring the exciting current reality of intraoral scanning, as well as what’s coming in the future.

    Early intraoral scanners had some major challenges. They didn’t replace the traditional workflow right away, they came with an intimidating learning curve and they often required the use of multiple other supplies to get a useable scan. It was almost as if the digital dentist and laboratory had one foot in the future and one in the past; one hand operating in the modern workflow and one stuck in tradition. 

    “Even back in the early days of intraoral scanning, a lot of times the labs would create their restorations using traditional methods,” says Jim Graham, global research and development director at 3M Oral Care. He says that labs would use digital files and 3D print models, but often relied on analog techniques to create final restorations. 

    Early adopters are always willing to put up with the murk of nascent technology, but to most, it just wasn’t more attractive than performing the skill they’d learned and honed long before. 

    “Within the clinical setting, you had this traditional impressioning capability that everybody had been taught from day one of dental or hygiene school,” Graham says. “Everybody knew how to use it, so it was simple, quick and effective. Suddenly, you’re asking your clinicians, assistants and hygienists to adopt this new technology that was completely different than anything they had been taught in the past.” 

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    Now, the capabilities of intraoral scanners and the software available outweighs any learning curve. And with the potential of what digital impressions could be in the future, the time to adopt is now. They’ve come a long way in the last few years

    “My history of chairside oral scanning started back in 2006,” says Payam Ataii, DMD. “Since then, the quality has improved tenfold, if not more. Scanned images appear instantly with crisp definition.” 

    In fact, digital impressioning technology has evolved so much that it is  is “over-delivering” by consistently and quickly acquiring quality data to ensure predictable outcomes, says John Cox, vice president of Technology Sales at Henry Schein.

    That’s not to say that using an intraoral scanner is akin to waving a magic wand around the mouth (this mental image courtesy of Justin Chi, DDS, CDT, but more on that later)—but it has seen some major improvements. 

    “What I bought the first time was really a tooth-by-tooth system,” says David Rice, DDS. With improved accessibility, things have changed. “Now, I can do multiple teeth in a quadrant and work on bridges and dental implants. The range of procedures that we can now work with is almost limitless.” His range also includes working with orthodontics (both traditional appliances and clear aligners) and integrating with 3D cone beam CT scans for airway and sleep apnea cases. 

    Trending article: Are digital impressions REALLY the better choice?

    Imaging and color capture 

    Cameras are getting much better, and many of them can capture images in color, allowing clinicians to see subtle nuances. 

    “What you see is a 3D image of the clinical situation now,” says John Flucke, DDS. “Nowadays, companies have all made it look like a clinical impression: even the coloring on the screen. It’s just like taking a model and holding it up in front of you with two hands.” 

    Digital impressions have a huge impact on patients who certainly notice the difference between an impression tray and a digital wand. 

    “I have an older system and my patients still think that I have some ridiculously high-tech thing,” says Leah Capozzi, DDS. “They can’t believe that they’re looking at their tooth on a screen.” 

    Digital impressions make it easier to educate patients. By using images that are of the patients’ own mouths, they can better understand the situation of their health and recommended treatment.

    “[Intraoral scanners are] just becoming more of a universal tool,” Dr. Rice says. “If we’re just trying to educate rather than create, we can use them now to take intraoral images.” 

    Dentists are also using digital impressions to create a more complete patient record. 

    “We use a scanner every day, on every patient because I can use the scan as a diagnostic image,” Dr. Ataii says. “When we had the older scanner, we only used it part-time. Time was a problem because it would take four or five minutes a scan. With the new Element, we can scan every patient in less than two minutes during routine visits.” 



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