From digital to reality: The gear you need to complete your digital workflow

August 8, 2019

The equipment and instruments you should consider investing in beyond a mill and a printer.

Once you’ve decided to take your practice digital, the first step is to invest in a scanner. A mill and/or a printer may come next depending on the vision you have for your practice and the services you plan to offer your patients.

A mill will give you the ability to provide same-day permanent restorations, while a 3D printer will make it possible to create products like clear aligners, models and surgical guides in-house. These are the big technologies everyone thinks of when talking about going digital, but the investments you’ll need to make don’t end there. You also have to think about what other products you’ll need to purchase to complete your digital workflow.

Here’s a look at some of those products to get you thinking about all the pieces you’ll need to be successful.

Software

Good software is one of the most important elements of a digital workflow, says Dr. Chad Duplantis of Fossil Creek Dental Partners. You need to make sure the software you have is specific to the technology in your office. Let’s say you invested in a scanner and have plans to add a mill down the road. Both pieces of equipment likely come with their own software, but it’s important to make sure they’re compatible with each other.

It’s also important that your scanner and 3D printer can communicate, Dr. Duplantis says. The 3D printer software needs to be able to interpret scans and turn them into a 3D printable format.

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If the software that comes with the systems you choose isn’t compatible, you can invest in third-party software to bridge it all together, Dr. Duplantis explains.

Milling materials

Having a mill in-house won’t do you much good if you don’t have enough materials in stock to mill the appropriate restorations for every patient you treat.

“Make sure you have an inventory of the various materials your mill is capable of milling to provide good, long-lasting restorations to your patients,” Dr. Duplantis says. “This does require an additional cost in inventory that some dentists don’t take into account.”

Ovens

If you want to go completely digital from start to finish, you’re going to need a porcelain oven, says Dr. John Flucke, chief development officer for Cellerant Consulting Group and chief dental editor and technology editor for Dental Products Report. That’s because after being milled, some materials must undergo an additional firing or crystallization process in a ceramic oven.

“If dentists want to use ceramic and zirconia, they need a scanner, a mill, a sintering oven and a regular oven, and then appropriate stains to finish it out with,” says Lee Culp, CDT, of Sculpture Studios.

You’ll want to invest in an oven that’s advanced enough to handle the materials you plan to mill, Dr. Duplantis says. He prefers a programmable oven that has the various preset firing times to ensure the restoration is crystalized to the extent required. 

Mill manufacturers often sell ovens as part of a kit, Dr. Flucke adds.

Stains and glazes

You’ll want to use stains and glazes after the milling cycle, Dr. Duplantis says, so that you can characterize the restoration.

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Polishers

Before restorations are placed, they’ll need to be polished-meaning you’ll need to have the appropriate tools on hand, Dr. Duplantis says.

“You want a really good all-around polishing and finishing kit,” he says.

There are polishers available for every material, but Dr. Flucke recommends purchasing a kit that will polish everything.

“I don’t see any reason to have a separate kit for zirconia and e.max,” he says. “Once you get in the trenches and your day goes crazy, you will forget what goes with what and polishers will end up in the wrong containers. It’s easier to get a system that does it all so you don’t have to worry about it.”

The thought of glazing, staining and polishing might turn off some dentists, but Dr. Flucke says some of this work can be delegated to team members who enjoy the artistic part of dentistry if you don’t.

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“The doctor doesn’t necessarily need to do all this stuff,” he says. “If you have good preps that create good cosmetic crowns that fit really well, you can turn over the finishing to a team member who can make the restorations look phenomenal. To some team members, being able to do that is the best thing in the world.”

Curing lights

Many curing lights on the market only cure common materials, Dr. Flucke says. Some materials require a different wavelength, which is why he recommends investing in a broadband light that can cure everything.

Washing stations and resin

If you opt to purchase a 3D printer, you’ll need a washing station to clean off the resin from the printing plate, Dr. Duplantis says. Some printers come with a station, but if not, it’s something you’ll have to buy separately. 

You’ll also need the appropriate resins for the products you’re going to fabricate with your printer and know how to mix them, Culp says. Some have to be mixed in a separate device, for example.

Make sure your office is prepared

While investing in the right products is important to a smooth transition to a digital workflow, so is making sure your office is ready to handle the new technology, Dr. Duplantis says. For example, some mills require additional air or water, which means you may need a plumber to come in and add lines to go through the mill.

“You need to make sure your office is equipped to take on the technology,” he says. “It’s usually not a huge upfront cost, but you want to ask all the appropriate questions before incorporating a mill or a printer into your office.”

Training is also important, Dr. Flucke says. Making sure both you and your team members are comfortable using these technologies and the products that support them is key to a seamless transition.

Converting to a digital workflow is an exciting time for a dental practice. Technologies such as scanners, mills and 3D printers help to improve efficiencies, enhance the patient experience and give you the ability to offer same-day dentistry. But, you’ll need other products to truly complete your digital workflow, and knowing what you need to invest in will help make your move to the digital world a smooth one.