How it all began for digital dentistry

digital dentistryAwesome Technology tells the story of digital dentistry, 3D printing and scanning.

With all the hype about digital dentistry in the dental laboratory it is easy to forget that employing scanners with design software and 3D printing is an ever-evolving process that rewards those with the vision to implement part or all of the systems into their existing process and for existing customers.

To emphasise this there are some interesting parallels between our ancient work in the mechanical engineering software space for CAD/CAM and today’s environment in digital dentistry. The two areas offered differing challenges at differing times but have followed a very similar path. 

As far back in as the late 1990s our work was largely one of CAD/CAM education in the automotive and aerospace industries; explaining what it was and how it could be used. The breakthroughs in precision 3D scanning technology, biocompatible dental resins and lower cost 3D printing brought much of the industry-based CAD/CAM technology to a practical use in dental laboratories.

By way of example, the STL file standards we now use to understand or print 3D scanned files came from a long evolution of more than twenty different file formats starting in the aerospace industry.

The application is the key to success

It is easy to become caught up in printing speeds, scan precision, UV wavelengths and the myriad of parameters needed to select equipment while losing sight of what the equipment is needed for. A lot of our work is to aid people through this miasma of information. It can be summarised as implementation consultancy.

The lab that is producing multiple sets of aligners often has different needs and rewards when compared to those working principally in crown and bridge work. Both can use 3D scanners and 3D printers but the pricing and specifications needed can also be very different.

The aligner scanning needs are not as demanding as those required for an implant abutment. Or, where you need very precise edges. There are similar differences in 3D printing where the high-volume aligner production needs a larger build plate.

Compared to a smaller throughput of high precision prints. Here margins are much tighter for example certain full arch surgical guides. Supplying ranges of 3D printers and scanners allows us to test, support and present the optimal solutions for individual labs.

Equally important are the choice of resins and downstream processes to clean, correctly cure and vacuum form. Here too the element of price and precision can play a part to confuse the process. In fairness the digital dentistry business doesn’t help itself by announcing products well ahead of their actual implementation possibilities.

It also understates the disciplines and environment needs of the equipment. That is why at Awesome Technology we always test new products in our own labs before actual implementation.

Summary

CAD/CAM in general industry is now ubiquitous and a fact of everyday life. However, it is yet to reach this level of implementation and acceptance in dental labs around Europe.

There are substantial developments still to come, though the rate of change is slowing. However, there is little doubt that digital dentistry for the laboratory will play an ever-increasing role.


This article first appeared in Laboratory magazine. You can read the latest issue here.

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