By Jan Einfeldt
Clinical Director of Staplehurst Dental Practice
What’s important to patients is also important to dentists and vice versa. We all benefit from efficient processes that enhance comfort, accuracy and minimize stress.
From the patient’s perspective, dental impressions haven’t traditionally offered the most pleasant experience. The availability of digital intraoral scanners has changed this drastically, providing a much more comfortable alternative[i]. For dentists, intraoral scanners offer many benefits in addition to encouraging patient satisfaction. They also have the potential to enhance the professional workflow, simplifying the impression-taking process and making everything from capture to storage of impressions easier. Plus, you can’t lose digital impressions like you can in the post or in filing cabinets.
The simple fact is that not all of us are great at taking impressions. Slight movement or a momentarily lapse in concentration can cause a less-than-perfect impression. The intraoral scanner increases the accuracy of the impression significantly[ii] and studies have found that trueness and precision[iii] can vary from scanner to scanner. As the quality of the impression now depends on the correct use of the scanner rather than experience with materials, we could soon see other members of the team taking impressions, instead of the dentist.
There is, of course, a cost implication involved with digital scanners. However, when you consider they eliminate the need for impression materials and trays, the overall investment starts to balance out over a period of time. Further still, the enhanced accuracy of the scanners and their ease of use reduce the chance of needing retakes. The software will actually show you at the time of scanning if any areas have been missed – or, if you need to go back at a later date, this can be done and the information collected simply added to, without needing to start again from scratch, as you would with traditional impressions.
As the benefits of intraoral scanners drive their popularity, I think a few things could yet change in the near future. For one, I can see them becoming more open. Some manufacturers currently charge for different “licenses” that enable practitioners to integrate their scans with certain software and lab design systems. However, there are completely open scanners with no hidden charges and I think more suppliers will go down this path – dentists don’t like to be locked in or restricted in what they do and who they can work with.
In terms of other improvements, what else would be useful?
Well, they are already so accurate that an increase in this area would be of little additional benefit to dental practitioners and their patients—it would be like making a wristwatch more accurate, but no one needs to know the time to the hundredth of a second!
Where a difference would be noticed is in the speed of image capture and production of the .STL file. Both clinician and patient appreciate a more efficient process and a shorter treatment time (where quality is not compromised). For the scanners to become more compact and even more easily portable would be other possible advantages to look forward to, as well as an overall and easier integration with other digital media, such as CBCT scans.
[i] Yuzbasioglu E et al. Comparison of digital and conventional impression techniques: evaluation of patients’ perception, treatment comfort, effectiveness, and clinical outcomes. BMC Oral Health. 2014; 14: 10. Published online 2014 Jan 30. doi: 10.1186/1472-6831-14-10
[ii] Birnbaum NS, Aaronson HB. Digital dental impressions systems. Inside Dentistry. 2011;7(2):84-90. - See more at: https://www.dentalaegis.com/cced/2014/06/digital-versus-traditional-impressions-an-objective-discussion#sthash.kb3NLw88.dpuf
[iii] Guth JF et al. Accuracy of five intraoral scanners compared to indirect digitalization. Clin Oral Investig. 2016 Jul 12. [Epub ahead of print>