Going 3-Dimensional: The Role of Technology in Dental Practice

Technology has been growing at rapid speeds and the dental and orthodontics fields have not been left untouched. It was only about two decades ago that a standard set of initial records would include plaster models, intraoral and facial photographs taken with film which were then developed, trimmed and placed into mounts. Also, panoramic and lateral cephalometric radiographs were taken with film and later developed in darkrooms.

Dr Anthony M. Puntillo confirms that the digitization of society has aided dentists and orthodontists in gathering and storing crucial diagnostic information in a more efficient manner. He envisions a day in the near future where the practice of Dentistry will no longer need impressions. This thought stems from the exponential growth of the use of 3D printers and scanners in dental practice.

3D printing

In a piece published in Dental Aegis, Chris Brown, evaluates the future of 3D printing in dental practice. Dental Laboratories are no strangers to 3D-printed products and started with printed models based on resin and resin patterns for pressing ceramics and casting metal. Within the last few years, workflow processes, software, and materials have seen improvements to make it a viable option to cast printed partial denture frameworks. Surgical guides, removable denture try-ins, and orthodontic aligner trays are other examples of laboratory based 3D printed products.

3D printers are not as widely implemented in dental offices as they are in laboratories, particularly because there is no immediate need. Some of the limitations of the technology include post-processing, production time, and availability of materials.

Printing speeds are nowhere near fast and the smaller or sharper the vertical resolutions, the more layers will need to be printed, adding to production time. After printing, post-processing may include soaking in an alcohol solution or cleaning with a high-pressure water spray, among others. While these processes are not necessarily complicated, they contribute to the time it takes to complete a print job.

As for materials, there is a limited selection of printable materials which the FDA has approved for use in the mouth. Even then, most of the approved materials are those used for short-term temporary contact, for instance, surgical guides. While long-term materials which could be used for dentures, bite splints and other applications are not yet widely available, we can expect to see positive developments in the area in future.

Swapping DSLRs for IOSs

Many now use intraoral scanners capable of taking several photographs of a patient’s teeth to create powerful 3D digital images. Many of these modern intraoral scanners capture images in the exact or nearly exact colour of the patient’s teeth. 3D images are both a better diagnostic record of a patient’s present dental state and are more versatile than 2D photos as they can be used to create appliances including retainers, clear aligners, and indirect bonding setups, among others.

With the rapid rate at which technology catches on, it will not be surprising to find that sooner rather than later, 2D digital photographs will be entirely dumped for 3D digital images, and we can expect trusted players in the industry, such as Orthosynetics to be in the forefront of supplying the latest technology to orthodontists.

For now, 2D intraoral pictures still remain extremely relevant in dental practice as there is still no satisfactory way to display and share STL files produced by 3D cameras for the purpose of educating patients. Also, while there are 3D cameras that are capable of abolishing the need for an extraoral series of facial features, these have not become mainstream, likely due to cost.