There is no way around it: the future of orthodontics is inevitably digital. With cutting-edge digital solutions for digital impressions, treatment planning, design, and 3D printing, what was once prohibitively expensive is now accessible, transforming thousands of orthodontic practices worldwide.
As CAD/CAM technology continues to replace traditional workflows and become the standard of care, digital solutions have become a necessary consideration for any orthodontic practice or laboratory for the following:
- High quality and precision: No two orthodontic treatments are the same. Achieving consistent, high-quality and affordable orthodontic products with so many potential sources of error is incredibly difficult. Fully digital orthodontic treatments reduce the risks and uncertainties caused by human factors, providing higher consistency, accuracy, and precision at every stage of the workflow.
- Improved efficiency: In terms of time and cost savings, digital orthodontics can be a no-nonsense business choice, improving efficiency in clinical procedures and streamlining workflows. For instance, fast and efficient impression taking with 3D intraoral scanners reduces chair time, provides instant feedback and omits manual errors like voids, bubbles, or tears reduce the need for secondary or duplicate impressions.
- Better patient experience and outcomes: Quicker appointments, more comfortable treatments, and better, faster results can be accomplished. A satisfied patient is more likely to return and recommend a clinic to others, contributing to the long-term success of any orthodontic business.
The digital dentistry workflow
While the design of different orthodontic treatments varies depending on the application, they all follow the same basic workflow:
- Scan (Fig. 1): 3D intraoral scanners can be used to capture scans digitally from the patient, replacing manual impressions with fast, accurate, digital impressions. Alternatively, desktop optical scanners, typically used by dental and orthodontic labs, can be used to scan traditional impressions or plaster models.
- Plan and design (Fig. 2): After scanning, patients’ digital impression is imported into orthodontic CAD software for planning treatments. For simple diagnostic models, users can also convert intraoral 3D scan files directly into printable models such as in PreForm, Formlabs’ print-preparation software. Most software packages use design processes similar to traditional workflows, employing highly visual interfaces. After the treatments are designed, models can be exported for manufacturing. If a remake is needed, the same digital design can be reused without additional effort.
- Manufacture (Fig. 3): 3D models are uploaded to the CAM or print-preparation software and then sent to a 3D printer or a milling machine. They work by solidifying parts layer by layer to form the shape of the appliances and models.
With the traditional workflow, the practice takes a physical impression of the patient and ships it to a lab that creates the required models or other indications. The lab then ships back to the practice for the treatment. In digital workflows, the individual steps can alternate easily between lab and practice, depending on the complexity of the case, indication and tools available at a practice, and other conditions. Thus, digital technologies simplify the process, improve communication and make interactions nearly instantaneous between the practice and lab (Fig. 4).