New Dental Technology: How Dental Labs Are Enabling Digital Revolution in Dentistry

A Dentist showing the patient tooth via monitor at Hawthorne, CA

Dental laboratory technology is advancing at a rapid pace, and dental health professionals who utilize these proven, science-backed innovations in their field will lead the race in offering the best care. Embracing the latest digital dentistry technology is win-win for both dentists and patients. Dentists get to provide more efficient service, while patients get access to durable, high-quality, and aesthetically pleasing products. 

In this guide, we will look at some of the latest dental technologies and tools that are transforming dentistry through digitization and taking the industry to the next levels of innovation.

Intraoral Scanners (IOS)  

Intraoral scanners are handheld devices that can create digital impressions of oral cavities and teeth. One unit is made up of the software, a computer, and a handheld camera wand. The tiny wand is connected to a small computer operating custom software that processes the digital data recorded by the camera. The smaller the wand, the more flexible it is in reaching deep into the mouth to capture precise data.

The scanning wand emits a light, which is projected onto the object, like a dental arch. Then, a 3D model created by the scanner appears on a touch screen. With this technology, the dental professional can send the digital files of the patient’s impression to the laboratory online, so there’s no need to wait for the courier to make back-and-forth rounds. 

An intraoral scanner provides extremely accurate details of the soft and hard tissues located in the area through high-definition images. Due to exceptional 3D image outputs and short lab turnaround times compared to traditional methods, IOS devices are becoming increasingly popular among dentists and clinics.  

The entire process of capturing the size and shape of each tooth using the scanning wand takes only a couple of minutes; some IOS models take less than 40 seconds to scan a full dental arch. You are able to not only see the real-time images on the computer, but also can magnify and manipulate them to enhance details. Computerized case presentations can be sent to your lab to fabricate whatever appliances you need.

The fast feedback allows you to treat more patients and save a lot of time. Intraoral scanners have revolutionized the way dentists capture the shape and contours of patients’ teeth. They offer very clear teeth structure information so you can provide the most appropriate and accurate dental treatments.

Not to mention, digital scans also reduce the chair time significantly. Patients don’t have to endure the discomfort and inconvenience that are associated with traditional methods of getting impressions, like the possibility of gag reflex (especially in patients with small mouths).  

By using IOS technology, you no longer have to rely on rubber bowls and spatulas for mixing materials and you don’t have to hold the tray in the patient’s mouth as they lay perfectly still for several minutes while you painstakingly wait for the plaster to set. Taking digital impressions is far more efficient in terms of chair time, patient comfort, and final outcome.

Add New Value to Your Dental Practice with an Intraoral Scanner

At Trident Dental Laboratories, we work closely with dentists and have seen a pattern develop where many dentists still aren’t using IOS devices despite them being proven to have many benefits. The biggest reason remains that most doctors have long-time relationships with dental labs that are stuck in their ways and are not willing to move toward digital dentistry.

We understand. You and your current lab have a workflow that works for you. You’re used to that workflow and you don’t see the need to rock that boat. You may even realize that going digital would be more cost-effective and optimize your operations as a whole, but still, you’re reluctant to change things because of your long-term relationship with a certain lab that’s still living in the good old analog days.

The thing is, not everyone is as unwilling to change as you. In August 2021, The Journal of the American Dental Association published ADA Clinical Evaluators Panel report which found that 53% of dentists are using an intraoral scanner. Among professionals who use this technology, 70% said it improved their clinical efficiency; 91% said they were extremely satisfied with the results; and 40% said it’s better than using conventional methods.

Even more interesting is that 34% of respondents said they were considering buying a scanner; their main barrier was the high level of initial financial investment.

3Disk Heron™ IOS: The Solution You’ve Been Looking For

The essence of the story here is that the integration of digital dentistry technologies is unstoppable. If you’re among the small percentage of dentists who are wary of making a large investment on an IOS system, you need to stop looking at dental impressions from the sole perspective of cost. Think of it in terms of balancing patient treatment and oral health against the cost of the scanner and you will see the benefits are worth the investment.  

Also, there is an extensive variety of IOS models available out there. You can review the price, features, accompanying software, and compare these to calculate your ROI.

We at Trident Dental Laboratories recommend 3Disk’s Heron™ IOS. In terms of cost, it is one of the most affordable entry-level scanners on the market today at around $17,000.

An ongoing cost you might be worried about with IOS systems is replacing the scanning heads. Thankfully, the Heron™ IOS has autoclavable and removable scanning heads that come with a limit of 250 cycles (after which you need to replace them). Considering the majority of scanners have a limit between 50 and 100, this is a ridiculously high number of cycles. A box of scanner heads for Heron™ costs roughly $450.

On top of that, there’s no subscription fee or yearly fee, which is the norm with many other intraoral scanners. Heron™ uses cloud storage (which is free) and all software updates are included for free. There are absolutely no other ongoing fees except for what you pay to replace scanner heads. If you’d like to learn more about this scanner, our team will be happy to chat with you.

3D Printer Technology

Three-dimensional printing or additive manufacturing (AM) is a process of manufacturing any desired object, layer-by-layer, using a digital design file or 3D digital data set. The objects made using this technology are designed in a computer-aided design software (CAD). The device that converts the digital file layer by layer into a physical object is known as a 3D printer.

Interestingly, even though 3D printers sound super modernistic, they have been for decades. In 1983, Charles Hull – also known as the “Father of 3D Printing” – developed the very first 3D printer to turn computer designs into working prototypes. Today, these printers are commonly used by many industries, including aerospace, automobile, medical, jewelry, food, education, defense, consumer goods, architecture, construction, and many more.

Did you know that when the COVID-19 pandemic took off, caught the world unaware, and froze supply chains, 3D printers helped create products like mask holders, head gears, ventilator knobs, and nasal swabs in different parts of the world until the supply chain was back to normal? These amazing printers have many applications.

Today we are only focusing on how 3D printing is transforming digital technologies for dentists. Dental professionals are using these nifty printers to create full dentures, retainers, splints/occlusal guards, clear aligner trays, crowns/bridges, and much more.

There are a lot of different ways you can use 3D printing. For example, say you want to create teeth for a patient. You will scan the patient’s mouth, take a 3D picture, then use that picture to generate a design for an artificial tooth before placing it in the patient’s mouth. You can also use a 3D printer to scan the teeth before designing Invisalign/braces. From caps and dentures to crowns and bridges, you can basically create anything with a 3D printer.

Here’s how it works: you first collect a digital impression using an intraoral Scanner and send the scans to your design station or laboratory. The digital scans are imported into CAD and the design process begins. Once that’s complete, the file is imported to print preparation software and printed. Finally, the printed parts are washed, dried, and post-cured.

The whole process is cost-effective, repeatable, and precise – which is why so many manufacturing industries use it worldwide.

Why Investing in 3D Printing Technology Matters for Dentists

The image of 3D Printing Technology machine in Hawthorne, CA

A dental practice can achieve far greater versatility and precision with a 3D printer. Here are just a few examples:

Create an Orthodontic Model

Forget about having your patients bite down on that gross, gooey clay so it could harden into the mold you need to design their Invisalign/braces. With the 3D printer, just scan the teeth, design the appliance you need according to your unique specifications, and print the end result in-house.

Repair or Replace a Damaged Tooth

Scan your patient’s mouth with the digital scanning wand, save the 3D image of the teeth and gums on the computer, design the tooth repair digitally (using the CAD software), and print the finished product with the printer.

Create Dentures, Caps, Bridges, Crowns, and More

The same process outlined above to produce a damaged tooth can be replicated to 3D printing all sorts of dental restorations you need. The only difference lies in the different materials you’ll have to use for different implants.

Make Your Own Implant Surgical Guides

Want to create your own drill guides for completing certain dental procedures? That can also be done with a 3D printer.

Cost-Effectiveness of a 3D Printer in Dentistry

If you’ve ever considered the possibility of fabricating dental bridges and crowns in-house, the cost of laboratory equipment to do so alone is $100,000 or more. Then there’s the matter of hiring and retaining a skilled dental technician to operate that equipment. Compare this to the one-time cost of $15,000 – $20,000 for a state-of-the-art 3D printer, which actually comes with all the material you need to get started.

These reduced costs will also reflect in your patients’ bills. One single traditionally-made crown can easily cost $2,000 (if not more). Thanks to the lower overhead costs of 3D printers, you can cut down this bill by 70-80%. And of course, 3D printing allows for faster and more accurate finished products.  

Consistently precise treatments mean your patients are less likely to need to return for repeat work for the same dental issue, saving their money and time. This is a good thing; a satisfied patient is far more likely to become a loyal customer and refer others, contributing to your long-term success.

Regenerative Dentistry

People have always had this preconceived notion that when their teeth fall out with age (or due to damage), they are supposed to be replaced by prostheses. Regenerative dentistry is set to change that perspective in the years to come.

Scientists are bringing us really close to reliable dental technologies to regenerate teeth so the damaged teeth can be replaced with real teeth made up of nerves, dentin, and blood vessels, rather than plastic, ceramic, or metal replacements. The day is not far off when biological therapy for damaged teeth and self-healing teeth will be the new normal.

Researchers at University of Nottingham and Harvard University have recently developed fillings that allow injured teeth to heal themselves. These dental fillings stimulate stem cells that accelerate the growth of the calcified tissue known as dentin. Patients can now effectively re-grow teeth that have been damaged in an accident or disease.

Even more exciting, researchers at KU Leuven University in Belgium have come incredibly closer to regrowing teeth from the root with the help of 3D printing. They set out to investigate the 3D printing of chitosan scaffolds extracted from fungal and animal sources, which could potentially be used in regenerative dentistry applications. The results have been very promising, and could potentially do away with root canals altogether

Digital Radiography 

X-rays are still widely used by dental professionals for many routine and complicated procedures. With that said, traditional x-rays are slow, expensive, and rely on film processing. The process of physically storing and sharing the copies is not very convenient either.

Direct digital radiography is changing that. It’s an advanced type of x-ray inspection that promptly renders digital images on a computer screen. You can take digital x-rays both outside (extra-orally) and inside (intra-orally) of the mouth. Once the file is scanned, it is then stored in the cloud or a physical server, making for much faster and easier dissemination. 

Digital radiographs save a lot of time because you get computerized case presentations. You can easily manipulate them to improve the details and contrast of the radiographic image. You can then transfer these images next to your patient’s chair to help you with the education and interpretation part of the process. 

There is also a notable safety aspect to it. Compared to traditional x-rays, a digital radiograph has limited exposure to radiation because the sensors in it are more sensitive to x-ray photons. Additionally, they are environmentally-friendly as there is no need to process and dispose the hazardous chemicals, unlike traditional x-ray images.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

The term “artificial intelligence” is typically associated with robots. AI refers to the process of using technology to create a machine or software that can essentially mimic human intelligence and execute specified activities. How is it playing out in dentistry, you ask?

AI is being used in dentistry for a variety of reasons, including the detection of normal and pathological structures, disease diagnosis, and prediction of treatment outcomes. It’s also widely employed in dental labs and is playing an increasingly integral role in dental education.  

Over the last two decades, digitization in dentistry has increased exponentially. The dearth of dental and medical experts in the industry is driving the demand for technology, especially AI software. As a direct result of this technology, time, costs, the requirement for human knowledge, and the frequency of medical errors can all be significantly reduced.

AI applications in dental science range from study of facial growth in orthodontics, to interpretation of radiographic images, to creating the best possible prosthesis for a patient.

In one study, an artificial neural network-generated model was used to predict toothache based on factors such as daily tooth-brushing frequency and time, toothbrush replacement pattern, usage of dental floss, diet, and exercise. The result was an extremely accurate toothache predicting model that identified proper eating habits, oral hygiene, and stress reduction as key factors in preventing toothaches. 

With the help of AI software that includes interactive interfaces and speech recognition, you can also accomplish simpler tasks like scheduling appointments for patients at your convenience.

AI is considered a promising tool in behavior management of patients as well to predict precisely the size of unerupted teeth in the mixed dentition period; to detect oral cancer in young patients at an early stage; and much more. Some dental surgeons are already using AI to estimate risk factors, growth forecasts, prenatal and postnatal diagnosis, and various treatment techniques in patients with cleft lip and palate (CLP). 

Overall, AI has the ability to help dentists – actually, physicians as a whole – make better diagnoses and has made contributions to patient care monitoring, personalized medicine, and drug research. It has also been integrated into electronic health records (EHR) to discover, evaluate, and alleviate patient safety hazards.

Embrace Cutting-Edge Digital Dental Technologies with Trident Dental Laboratories

The dental world is changing with each passing day. Technological advancements are bringing so many benefits to both dental professionals and their clients, providing a smoother and more precise workflow. With more demanding patients and increasing competition, you can’t afford to stick with the status quo – not when many of your competitors are readily adopting the new advances.

If you want to keep up with the times and provide the best customer experience, it’s time to upgrade your lab operations. This is where Trident Dental Laboratories comes in. Whether you want to integrate intraoral scanners, 3D Printers, or other digital innovations into your dental practice, we are dedicated to helping you do just that.We stay ahead of digital technology trends in dentistry, from what we recommend for our clients to the equipment we use in our lab to ensure their success. When you need a fully-equipped dental lab that prioritizes industry-leading technological innovations, you can rely on Trident Dental Laboratories. If you have any questions, contact us online or send us your case.