Digitizing Dentistry

Thanks to modern day dental technology, the practice of receiving a dental crown is becoming a whole lot easier.  A dental crown is a custom-made cap that is permanently placed over a damaged tooth to restore shape, strength, and aesthetics.  Typically, in the event a crown is needed, a mold would be made of the area and sent to a dental laboratory.  Here, the crown would be made to match as perfectly as possible and sent back to the dentist, taking about a week for the process.  The patient, who was likely fitted with a temporary crown during the first appointment, would then return to the office for the permanent crown to be placed.  But due to technological advances, more and more dentists are embracing a new practice, which allows a crown to be molded, manufactured, and placed in just one appointment.

According to a recent USA Today article, the use of computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing (CAD/CAM) technologies is gaining popularity. Using a digital scan of the mouth, a 3-D image of the teeth and gums is created on a computer.  Software then suggests the ideal dimensions of the needed crown, but still requiring some fine-tuning from your dentist’s expert eye.  The final image is then sent to a “milling” machine, which carves the crown out of a ceramic block, ready for placement.  The entire process takes about two hours. And this is not the only dental procedure impacted by these technological advances.  Others include:

  • Digital radiography or x-rays: computer-generated images often create clearer images in a shorter time and have been said to produce less radiation.
  • Cone-beam computed tomography (CT) imaging: capturing a 3-D view of the teeth, jaw, gums, and nerves, these scans can possibly identify tumors and other diseases that don’t show up on traditional x-ray.
  • Digital dentures: creating a permanent digital record allows for duplication of lost or damaged dentures easily.

Steven Spitz, a prosthodontist at Smileboston Cosmetic and Implant Dentistry claims that “adopting these advances is about finding ways to improve the experience for patients.”  For example, special lasers can be used to detect cavities and place fillings and dental implants, eliminating some of the pain and guess work.  Some dentists are using digital images to make virtual models that are then sent to dental labs, cutting down on the manufacturing time as well.  The use of digital imaging isn’t actually new, first introduced about 25 years ago, but the use in office is growing despite the $150,000-200,000 price tag to get started.  The technology does still have its limitations however, with dentists who offer same-day crowns only able to perform a single restoration at a time.  When multiple crowns, a bridge, or a very visible restoration is required, crowns are best produced in a dental lab where more sophisticated work is often completed.  Despite this fact, dentistry is turning digital more and more these days, promising an exciting and intriguing future for the field.

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