Traditional Impression Technology
In 1984 the first “digital” impression was introduced into the world of dentistry. This meant that instead of having to fill a patients mouth with impression materials, digital images could be taken with a miniature camera and once stitched together, could be used to fabricate a model on which a crown or bridge could be made. This was a real advantage because the patient wouldn’t be drooling and/or choking on the impression material waiting for it to set up, a process normally taking 3-5 minutes! On the other hand, the scanners at the time were very expensive and many doctors felt these first prototypes were not as accurate at the impression materials were.
Digital Imaging Impressions Today
Fast Forward to today. Along with the advances in computer technology, computer imaging has progressed by leaps and bounds. Along with this, the number of competitive dental imaging companies has exploded. Now, instead of taking images of just one tooth, we can scan full arches. Two methods are now in use and competing with each other. One, takes still images and “stitches” together these images into a data base that can be transmitted over the internet to the lab for model fabrication to make a crown, bridge or denture. The other method uses video capturing and essentially does the same thing with regards to stitching and transmitting that data to the lab.
Both systems whether it be a series of still pictures or a video capture of the image, produce accurate replicas of your mouth and from the models produced, can allow the laboratory to fabricate beautiful restorations. Past systems required fairly large units, called cart systems, that represented look a likes to R2D2 when used in the dental office, and required special software programs (closed systems) specific to their particular manufacturer in order to communicate that information to the lab (i.e. proprietary software). If your lab didn’t have the right software, you were out of luck! However, now most newer systems are “open” and all labs can take them. In addition, the newest systems have traded the old mobile units (sorry R2D2!) for USB connections that can be used on any computer!
How It Affects You
So, the next time you’re in your dentist’s office you might be surprised if you need a crown, bridge or even a denture (coming soon!). The “early adoption” phase of digital impressions is moving into the “becoming widely accepted” phase. With more manufacturers entering the market and more competitive pricing as well as wider acceptance and use, you may be pleasantly surprised to find your dentist “scanning” your mouth without the old impression materials and enjoying a much more comfortable experience! Looks like 2015 will be a great year to see your dentist after all!