What's the state of digital technology?
Ever-changing. From establishing partnerships to expanding indications and material options, manufacturers are continuously improving and expanding their products and services to better streamline, simplify and improve laboratory processes.
Here are the top eight trends in digital technology:
"The technology has advanced from dial up to high speed, from minutes to seconds," says Ron Hirsty, CDT, Nobel Biocare. "We can go from scanning a die to a simple coping in less than one minute and we can design a molar to full contour in five minutes. Technicians are fabricating crowns on cruise control."
Full-contour restorations are stronger throughout compared to a layered crown and can either be milled as a one-piece restoration or printed/milled as a full-contour waxup and then invested and pressed to create the restoration. "In the past, we layered because we had to, but now there are more efficient ways of fabricating a crown and milling to full contour is one of them. We don't have to rely exclusively on full layering anymore," says Lee Culp, CDT, owner of Mosaic Studios, Sarasota, Florida and D4D Technologies' vice president of dental technologies.
Now that this alloy can be milled and esthetic porcelains for titanium are available, casting problems and unesthetic restorations are a thing of the past. Biocompatible and radiolucent, milled titanium offers sharp margins and is classified between noble and high noble alloys so labs can have a greater profit margin without adjusting their prices and avoid the high cost of gold-based alloys. "Titanium is hugely exciting and our clients are salivating. We believe titanium restorations will become the quickest growing product we sell in our lab," says Larry Rips, RDT, owner of A&L Dental Lab in Toronto.
Rapid prototyping builds waxups or metal copings layer by layer and results in less material waste than milling because the leftover material can be reused. Wax printers are growing in popularity because they allow labs to mass produce wax patterns that can then be pressed or cast using traditional techniques, boosting production levels and extending production hours without overtime.
The open system revolution
The movement towards open CAD/CAM systems and partnerships between manufacturers to make their systems compatible continues to rise. This trend is good news for users because it gives them access to a wider range of input and output devices and indications without investing in new equipment.
Intra-oral impression scanners are touted for their accuracy and ability to reduce remakes. The caveat? Despite the benefits, dentists are reluctant to adopt a new and expensive technology. The newer impression scanners don't solve the problem of poor impressions but they eliminate model pouring and help "bridge the gap" until intraoral impression scanning is embraced by dentists.
Automated model production
Fueled by the trend of intra-oral scanning devices and impression scanners, a growing number of manufacturers offer model-making machines that mill or print models from a digital file. "Soon we're going to be printing all of our models--maybe not today, but it's coming," says Culp. "The prices will eventually come down to about the same as what it costs for us to make a traditional model and the digital models are better. Another bonus: unlike conventional methods, automated model production allows concurrent manufacturing of the model and restoration, saving valuable time."
Cone beam computed tomography (CBCT) provides a true, three- dimensional reproduction of the patient's anatomy. Since the technology allows the dental team to precisely analyze bone density, see anatomical interferences and use measurements that correspond exactly to the patient's anatomy, cone beam CT scans are becoming the optimum tool for implant treatment planning. CBCT machines have started appearing in dental radiology centers and dentists' and specialists' offices. Even a few innovative laboratory owners have purchased CBCT scanners to scan implant patients in-house and offer the ultimate diagnostic tool to dentist-clients.