Spurred by the spirit of competition and pursuit of market share, scanning manufacturers have raised the standards for their image quality, speed and accuracy. Dr. Chad Duplantis, DDS, a private practice dentist from Fort Worth, Texas, and frequent lecturer on digital dentistry, says all the scanners employ enhanced speed, accuracy, and ease of use for the dentist.
“I don’t know what the computer scientists are doing; I’d be lying if I tried to tell you that,” he says, laughing. “But over the past several years, every scanner software has improved to a certain extent.”
Dr. John Flucke, DDS, a private practice dentist in Lee’s Summit, Missouri., is impressed with how the technology has evolved already.
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“The results with the scanners now are better than I thought they'd be,” he says. “The folks that design and create these devices have taken this technology to the point where it's just so doggone easy.”
So, what are the ways that scanning software has improved? Here’s what our experts had to say.
- Removing extra steps: Dr. Alex Kalmanovich, DDS, a private practice dentist from Laguna Beach, California, uses the CEREC Omnicam and before that, the CEREC Bluecam. He appreciates how the upgraded software streamlined the scanning process, from getting rid of powder to adding the ability to perform a continuous scan. “We couldn’t do a continuous scan. You had to click on each image and snap. That was more difficult. Now we just scan like we are shooting a video instead of clicking on images,” he says.
- Improving image quality: In addition to streamlining the scanning process, Dr. Kalmanovich likes the improved image quality. “It looks esthetically better. It looks more realistic, more accurate. From what I had before, my new scanner is so many times better in quality. Not only for the great image, but also for patient education. It looks so nice I could use them to show patients and use it as an intraoral camera almost,” Dr. Kalmanovich says.
- Automating and eliminating guesswork: The new software has simplified the scanning process and automates many aspects of the impression for you. Dr. Flucke, who was an early adopter of scanning software, remembers when he had three different windows that showed the x-, y- and z-axis, which required more calculation on his part. He also recalls spending more time trying to read the scan, looking for margins, and determining where and how tight the contact would be than he does now. “Now you just wave the camera over the working area. It almost finds the margin directly for you, does all the design for you. It's incredible how simple it's become as opposed to how complicated it used to be,” Dr. Flucke says.
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- Improving speed of image capture: Dr. Ford Gatgens, DDS, a private practice dentist from Dickson, Tennessee., just outside of Nashville, uses the 3M™ True Definition Scanner. He has seen many upgrades to the software and the scanning wand itself. “I saw an increase in my efficiency and improved image capture as the technology and the software gets better,” Dr. Gatgens says. Dr. Duplantis agrees that over the past several years, his 3M Scanner and all the other scanners have enhanced the speed of capture, reducing the time spent taking an impression on a patient. “The software has gotten to the point that as you are moving the wand, it’s capturing the image and you don’t have to hover as long over the teeth to capture that accuracy,” he says.
- Tweaking image quality and accuracy: Per Dr. Duplantis, every scanner is racing to achieve the fastest scanning of the arch without affecting precision, and they are all “within hairs of one another.” Each of the scanners captures information differently, but accuracy is measured using the spatial relationship of the teeth as compared to a static object. “Compared to a predetermined spatial relationship with an object and using a standard deviation, researchers can determine how accurate a scan you get with the wand,” Dr. Duplantis explains. “Every single one of the intraoral scanners is more accurate than a traditional impression.”
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- Zooming into fine details: Dr. Justin Chi, clinical research associate at Glidewell Laboratories, appreciates how his TRIOS® 3Shape camera can pick up and facilitate a close look at fine details. The scale and resolution of the images are such that he can pick out the burr marks on the tooth. Dr. Chi can zero in on a particular spot on his prep to analyze and see things he cannot see even with loupes or high-powered magnification. “The resolution and the details you can see on the screen are extremely accurate,” he says. “It ultimately makes people a better dentist.”
- Requesting more information when needed: Dr. Flucke appreciates how scanning software is not only faster and more accurate but also more assertive when it needs additional data. After taking the scan, the software alerts the doctor to areas where there isn’t enough data to give a good model. Dr. Flucke likes how this automation prevents getting surprises from the lab. Moreover, after the area is retaken, the software automatically fills those indicated areas with the new scan. “Bing, bing, bing. It just knows where it is and fills those areas in,” Dr. Flucke explains. “It’s just incredible.”
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- Including a clearance function: Some software added a feature that allows doctors to see the amount of space on their prep. The immediate feedback is great. “So instead of having to wait for your lab to tell you, ‘Hey, you didn’t reduce enough here,’ now you get that information right away,” Dr. Chi explains.
- Adding shade matching: Shade matching has many variables that affect accuracy when handled the traditional way, from the lighting of the room to the experience of the technician. However, the 3Shape produces a live view with an actual color image, eliminating some of the guesswork involved with the shade matching process. Dr. Chi likes how his 3Shape’s resolution of the scan is such that by clicking on the adjacent teeth, the software has an actual shade measurement function that gives you the shade right then.
- Working together with open source technology: Dr. Flucke is a big fan of open source technology and manufacturers agreeing to cooperate. With open source, he can mix and match. If he wants to buy an open source mill, it will work with his iTero® Element™ Intraoral Scanner. He says he likes not feeling limited in choices or pushed into the purchase of an individual brand.
Is it time to invest in scanning?
Dr. Gatgens is impressed with the improved features of scanning software from units that are powder-free to those that produce color scans, as well as units that shade match, all features that he sees as beneficial to a dental practice. When it comes to investing in technology, Dr. Gatgens has two questions he asks himself:
- Will it help with my patient outcomes?
- Will it make me more efficient in the office?
“As the technologies continue to improve, the answers to these questions would both be yes,” Dr. Gatgens says. “Technology is how things are going in dentistry for the future and that means better outcomes for our patients. Ultimately, that’s how our decisions have to be made.”
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Dr. Flucke is an advocate for scanning over traditional impressions. He believes it is not a technology that is “still working the bugs out.” He also will no longer accept the argument that someone can take a better traditional impression than what the scanner takes. He compares it to the arguments regarding moving to digital X-rays, when doctors said film was more accurate.
“A picture the size of a postage stamp is never going to give me as much information as an image on a 24-inch widescreen monitor. That's not even open for discussion. It's the same way with scanning vs. traditional impressions,” Dr. Flucke says.
As far as the reliability, speed and accuracy of scanning software, he thinks the technology is essential to today’s practicing dentist.
“It's not hard to do. It's not hard to learn. It is so simple. And the results are so good,” Dr. Flucke says. “It's no longer an 'if' technology; it's a 'when' technology."