Dentists, as members of healthcare, are always on the lookout to maximize the care, comfort, and treatment of their patients. These goals range from more accurate diagnosis of their oral condition to simply less time in the dental chair. 

Technologies in the form of digital dentistry are increasingly looking to be the solutions. Six are discussed today along with the future of dentistry in the marketplace.  

What is Digital Dentistry? 

Digital dentistry is the use of digital technologies or other computer-controlled devices to carry out many dental procedures instead of mechanical or electrical tools. Benefits include:

  • Use of modern techniques, tools, and procedures. 
  • Scans of the patient’s mouth, teeth, and gums are more reliable and accurate. 
  • Patients spend less time in the dental chair.
  • Dentists and patients can proactively deal with dental issues.

Digital Dentistry Technologies

Dentists, as providers of oral medicine, have a great many tools at their disposal in the treatment of their patients. For digital dentistry, the most common are: 

Intraoral Cameras

Historically, dentists and other members of their dental team like hygienists used tiny round mirrors called “mouth mirrors” to examine the inside of a patient’s mouth. Intraoral cameras are rapidly replacing these mirrors. Advantages include: 

  • Greater magnification. Intraoral cameras can magnify a tooth up on a medical monitor screen for closeups. This allows dentists to better identify any potential issues with the patient’s oral health.
  • Images captured from the cameras can easily be shared to the patient. This allows them to better understand their oral hygiene and any treatments.
  • Lab technicians can use the images to match patients’ true teeth colors when shading crowns, bridges, and other prosthetics.

Digital Radiography

The traditional X-ray process used in dental offices was time-intensive. The film had to be processed which then was physically mailed or delivered to the dentist’s office. Afterwards, it was stored away in files and similar cabinetry. 

Today’s digital radiography is more effective.

  • It’s safer. According to the American Dental Association, patients and dental staff are less exposed to radiation with digital radiology than with X-rays.
  • There’s no processing time. Images by digital radiography can immediately be seen on the computer monitor. 
  • Ease-of-storage. The files generated by digital radiography can easily be uploaded and stored on an office server or in the cloud. This makes them easy to retrieve by the dentist and/or staff at any time as well as shared with specialists if necessary. 

CAD (Computer Aided Design) / CAM (Computer Aided Manufacturing) 

Every dental patient sooner or later gets a dental impression of their mouth. This is when the dental team puts a gooey substance called “impression material” in a mouthguard and places it in the patient’s. The patient then bites until it has hardened into a mold. That mold is then sent off to a lab where a dental technician creates whatever a prosthesis (crowns, veneers, or dentures) is needed.

CAD/CAM technology does away with all that. The patient’s mouth is scanned using the above intraoral scanning device. A 3D digital image of their mouth is then created via the CAD/CAM (computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacture) software. Dental technicians create the prosthesis by milling or through 3-D printing (see below). 

French dentist Dr. Francois Duret, considered the “father” of digital dentistry, made the first dental impressions using CAD/CAM back in 1984.

3-D Printing 

Dental offices in the past relied on off-site labs staffed by dental technicians to produce a variety of prosthetics, models, and presurgical and surgical guides. Now with digital dentistry, 3-D printers controlled by a medical box PC can create many of them. Dentists simply use digital images to create custom prosthetics and models quickly and inexpensively. Those models, especially, can be useful for surgical planning as they help patients visualize and better understand their treatment plans.

Electronic Health Records

Dental offices used to record patient records, from their health history to prescriptions, on paper. The bulky files were stored away in filing cabinets and boxes. 

Technological innovation like electronic medical records (EHR) and federal regulations like HIPAA compliance and guidance have encouraged the digitization of much of the information. Advantages include: 

  • Makes keeping track of a patient’s records easier
  • Improves the patient experience
  • Easy scheduling  
  • Improved workflows
  • Simplifies patient information access when dental staff is off-site or between offices 

Digital Dentistry Workflow 

Traditional workflows for dental offices involve the work of dentists and dental technicians from the processing of tests to the creation of prosthetics. In the transition to digital dentistry, that line is no longer separated. Patient treatment in typical digital dentistry would consist of:

  1. Scanning or digital impression taking, using intraoral cameras and other computer-aided devices. Images can be discussed with the patient who can view the issue(s) in real-time on the computer monitor.
  2. Treatment planning and design. At this step, the dentist can use CAD/CAM to create any necessary dental items like custom fillings. 
  3. Product manufacturing, in which the dental item is created via the office 3-D printer. 

Future of Dentistry and Digital Dentistry 

Dentistry continues to grow. In digital dentistry, dentists are eyeing digital implant surgery as yet another promising new tool in the future of dentistry.

Digital implant surgery works by creating a 3-D computer model of the patient’s bone and nerves around the jaw. The custom implant and its guide are then printed by an in-house 3-D printer. The hope with this technique, which is still relatively new, will lead to less surgery time, less trauma to the patient, as well as their faster recovery. 

The digital dentistry worldwide market back in 2021 was worth an estimated 915.6 million in 2021. The compound annual growth rate (CAGR) is expected to rise 8.7 percent yearly until 2029 where it’s expected to be worth 1784.61 million. The future of dentistry is looking bright whether traditional or digital. 

Closing Comment 

Digital dentistry looks to improve the care of a patient’s oral hygiene thanks to a slew of digital or computer-based technologies and techniques. Intraoral cameras, 3-D printing, and EHR are just a few making their way into dental offices. 

Contact an expert at Cybernet if your dental group is looking to incorporate digital dentistry with their accompanying medical computers into your practice. 

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