Intraoral scanners offer an accurate and fast digital way to take dental impressions. They are the ideal starting point for every dental treatment which requires an accurate and detailed representation of the surface of patients’ teeth and gums.
The technology behind intraoral scanners has evolved to make them a vital piece of equipment that improves diagnosis and treatment planning as well as increasing business efficiency and patient satisfaction.
The popularity of this technology is reflected in the fact that the global intraoral scanners market was valued at $273 million in 2016 and is estimated to reach $557 million in 2023 .
Is it finally time to put down your impression tray?
This interactive guide takes a deeper look into intraoral scanning and the different options available. What are the advantages of digital impressions over conventional impressions and what are its applications? What should you consider when purchasing an intraoral scanner?
The technology has advanced significantly since the beginning and intraoral scanners now offer clinicians the following compelling benefits:
Intraoral scanners are designed to produce highly accurate and detailed scans that can be studied at extreme magnification which improves the clinician’s ability to diagnose accurately and plan the right treatment. This means that the final fit will take less time and the number of remakes reduces significantly.
A digital impression of both arches can be taken in a matter of seconds with some intraoral scanners, which is a significant advantage over the conventional impression process. If an area is missed, it can be scanned again and “stitched” into the rest of the impression with the minimum of fuss, in contrast to disposing of a faulty conventional impression and starting the entire process again.
Patients find intraoral scans much more comfortable than conventional impressions. A small camera on the end of a smooth wand is far less invasive than a tray of impression material which must be held in the mouth to set, an experience that can be extremely uncomfortable especially for those with strong gag reflex. There is also a marked reduction in chair time for those patients when using intraoral scanners compared to conventional impressions.
Clinicians can use the 3D models as a compelling visual aid to explain the diagnosis and recommended treatment to their patients. Seeing a life-like representation of their oral situation on screen increases patient understanding and the likelihood that they will consent to the treatment.
Digital impressions can be sent instantaneously to other members of the dental team, such as the dental laboratory. This increases the speed of communication but also improves collaboration as, regardless of geographic location, clinician and technician can discuss the treatment plan with the case in front of them. This leads to better understanding and the optimum outcome.
Aside from improved speed and fewer retakes, digital models take up no shelf space in the practice and they can be saved securely within the patient’s file on many practice management systems. There are no material costs with digital scans as there are with traditional impressions, such as silicone and impression trays, all of which also need to be disposed of.
The beauty of an intraoral scanner is that it can work alone or as the starting point for a wide range of workflows. The digital impressions taken by intraoral scanners have applications in restorative, implant dentistry and orthodontics - indeed, any treatment that requires a detailed surface impression to start.
Most intraoral scanners come with purpose design/built systems and have software pre-loaded, but some can be plugged into a USB on a PC that has the required specification to run the software. Once done, digital impressions can be taken and reviewed, and then sent immediately as open STL format to a laboratory or other partners if preferred.
Alternatively, clinicians can make use of the sophisticated computer-aided design (CAD) software that accompanies modern intraoral scanners to diagnose and plan their own treatments, including designing their own restorations.
A common application for intraoral scanners is the first step in a chairside same-day restoration, such as a crown or a set of veneers. In-practice CAD software has become increasingly sophisticated as well as easy to use so that, once the intraoral impressions have been imported, it can now offer the clinician viable computer-generated restorative proposals which the clinician can then adapt and improve upon. This makes designing restorations remarkably straightforward and enables the clinician to keep more control of the design process.
For simple restorations such as veneers, inlays, onlays and single crowns, it is then possible to mill the restorations on an in-practice milling unit. A chairside setup like this gives a clinician significant CAD/CAM capabilities and ultimate flexibility which allows them to control whether they keep the full process in-house or pass more complex cases on to the lab.
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For more complicated restorations, or if chairside restorations are not an option, clinicians can design their restorations and send over those designs to the lab. Alternatively, they may choose to take the digital impression and send the files straight over to their preferred laboratory for both the design and manufacturing stages. The choice is theirs.
Most intraoral scanners can export scan images in an open STL format which means they can be imported into software from other manufacturers, which gives clinicians the flexibility to choose the laboratory that best suits their requirements.
Most CAD/CAM software also integrates with related software that enables clinicians to design orthodontic appliances or send digital impression files straight to third party orthodontic suppliers such as Invisalign, which increases the efficacy of the custom-made appliances and streamlines the process. With the addition of a 3D printer to the practice, items such as orthodontic aligners and surgical guides can be manufactured in the practice as well.
√ Open and therefore able to work with a variety of systems
√ Clinically proven to be accurate
√ Comfortable for patient and operator
√ Any ongoing fees or licences
√ Long warranty and good customer service
√ Future-proof / easily upgradeable
√ Easy to use and keep clean