The latest advancements in digital dentistry
Digital technology is constantly changing—even within the last 12 months.
In the first issue of Digital Esthetics, the cover story was on the latest advances of digital technology. Of course, the tricky thing about technology is that it changes—and it changes constantly. So now, almost a year after the debut issue, what are the latest developments in dental technology?
What’s it doing to the lab-practice workflow? What new possibilities and challenges are coming into focus thanks to process digitalization? Digital Esthetics asked a group of experts—some interviewed in the original cover story, some not—to find out what’s changed in the last year.
In the original article, it was noted that workflow maturation depended on several components all working together, and Justin Marks, CDT agrees. “The process of knowing how to do digital manufacturing is becoming more refined because of two things,” he says. “First: software, scanning, and manufacturing companies are coming together and presenting a process for how to make a denture with their products. Second, there are a lot of pioneers at the lab level who have experimented enough that they know how to do it on their own.”
When we last visited this topic, experts said that we would see a big change coming to the area of digital dentures. Trends in technology seem to be proving them right. While 3D printing has been on the market in dentistry for years, the advancement of other technologies such as milling units and restorative materials have the focus right now. Scanning is getting more detailed. Milling is getting more efficient. Materials are increasing in esthetics and strength. But as these technologies continue to be perfected, maturity in 3D printing will be the focus over the next year or two as new printing materials become available.
“There has been a huge boom toward both clinicians and laboratories getting involved in 3D printing,” says Mark Ferguson, CDT. “It had previously been cost prohibitive, but with advancements in materials and hardware, it’s gotten easier. Multiple things have come together to put things at a faster trajectory of advancements than you would normally see.
“Generally, when you’re looking at advancements in machines or computers, everything is going to get twice as fast every 18 months or two years. With 3D printing, you had that trajectory, but with the hardware and materials it was able to go even faster.”
While the market isn’t being flooded with new materials and technologies, it is still an exciting time in dentistry, says Dr. John Flucke. “We’re not seeing radical changes, but we are seeing some new companies coming into the market,” says Dr. Flucke. More companies bring more competition, and therefore, more innovation in the form of fine-tuning, as “huge changes aren’t as easy to come by,” he says.
Some of those tweaks include offering higher resolution printers that offer more detail and accuracy, says Ferguson. “That has been caused not just by hardware, but by materials,” he says. “The hardware, depending on the printer type, can get to a certain point, but the material has to have a grit size that is small enough to allow the resolution and accuracy to get to that higher level. That happened with 3D printing in the last year.”
Another benefit of fine-tuning available technologies and products is the subsequent decrease in cost.
“New materials in printing came out over the last year: and perhaps they weren’t new, but were new to dental as they reached the threshold of accuracy and resolution that we require, which is higher than that required in other industries,” says Ferguson. “But instead of $150,000 for the machines, you’re spending as low as $5,000 or $20,000, which makes it a much more affordable and attractive piece of equipment for laboratories and clinicians.”
“There are a lot more options for desktop and sub-$10,000 printers,” says Justin Marks, CDT. “At a more refined level, there’s a race to print long-term products instead of just prototyping,” he says.
The race is hindered by the lack of new printing materials for use in dentistry.
“In the last few years, there haven’t been any changes in printing materials because the material selections are limited,” says Marks.
Continue to the next page for more on the fastest-growing technologies...