intraoral scanning: changing the lab as we know it

This article, written by Nate Seimears, was first featured in the WSDLA newsletter.

If you haven’t heard the news; IOS (intraoral scans) are here to stay!

I’m sure you’ve gotten “the call” from a client that you least expected asking which scanner you thought would be best for them. Blame it on the “dental boom” after Covid, FOMO (the fear of missing out), or simply the fact that dentists are looking for new ways to grow their businesses; scanners have been flying off the proverbial shelves at a record pace over the last 3 years. The dental industry is heading into a new digital era, are we heading in the right direction?

According to the American Dental Association (ADA), the number of dentists who use intraoral scanners has risen from 34% in 2019 to 53% in 2022, and there is no doubt those numbers will continue to rise. The ADA also found that 70% of dentists who purchased scanners reported that the reason why was to help improve the efficiency of their practice. The hope is to have the ability to train their staff to take impressions faster and achieve predictable results using an IOS compared to traditional PVS ( polyvinyl siloxane) impression taking. PVS can be difficult, technique sensitive, and time consuming to learn.

With the ability to scan comes the opportunity to mill. 

One of our in-house mills.

Dentists know this, and so should we. The concept of a “same day crown” is very appealing to patients. Dentists can use this not only to speed up turnaround time, but as an effective marketing tool. According to a study done by the National Institutes of Health in 2021, 27.2 % of dentists reported the presence of a chairside milling machine in their office. And who do they call first to help them with their shiny new CAD/CAM toys? You guessed it, their trusty dental lab. I have even been asked by one of my own clients to teach a group of their dental assistants how to design, mill, and finish a crown. In short, how to become a tech overnight. It’s in our nature to provide solutions and want to be helpful, but are we helping ourselves out of a job? 

Adding insult to injury,  even though scanners are improving the speed at which dentists can see patients, I find that a large number of scans are not sufficient to produce a high quality restoration from. Data holes, unclear margins, distortion, misaligned bites or no bites at all, are just some of the problems we see. Don’t get me wrong, scanners can be a wonderful tool to have, but that’s all they are, another tool in the tool belt. As with the use of any tool, the finished product comes down to the skill of the operator. 

If you can’t beat ’em, join ‘em!

If your lab does not currently have the ability to receive intraoral scans and print digital models within the next five years it’s safe to assume you may lose accounts/business because of it. Can we really blame the dentists for diving into the digital world seeking to maximize their profits, increase their speed and show patients that they’re on the cutting edge?

 This shift will undoubtedly affect your lab’s workflow too, and maybe for the better. We can say goodbye to bloody impressions, pouring stone models, and trimming stone dies, thus reducing the need for experienced technicians. There will be no need for pickups, only delivery, increasing the lab’s efficiency as well.

As with PVS impressions, it is imperative that we carefully inspect every IOS impression sent to our lab in order to ensure a quality outcome. Dentists have a challenging job (no matter what they use) to fully capture all the information accurately in a patient’s mouth in order to give us, the lab, what we need to succeed.

So how do we respond?

It pays to work with our clients, not against them.

We should always seek to strengthen our relationship with dentists and pass on what we learn through continuing education, regardless of the outcome. So help them when they need help, and answer their questions as best you can. We will not win by keeping what we know to ourselves. Show your clients through good communication, service, and superior quality, that you are an irreplaceable member of their team.

Despite these shifting times dentists still need good crown and bridge labs. We are an integral part of the dental industry, in which we want to excel, not only in its efficiency, but its quality. Because when it comes down to it, quality is what is best for our patients, regardless of the tools we use to get there.  

Sources:

 Nassani MZ, Ibraheem S, Shamsy E, Darwish M, Faden A, Kujan O. A Survey of Dentists’ Perception of Chair-Side CAD/CAM Technology. Healthcare (Basel). 2021 Jan 13;9(1):68. doi: 10.3390/healthcare9010068. PMID: 33451003; PMCID: PMC7828474.

Revilla-León, Marta & Frazier, Kevin & Costa, Juliana & Kumar, Purnima & Duong, Mai-Ly & Khajotia, Sharukh & Urquhart, Olivia. (2021). Intraoral scanners: An American Dental Association Clinical Evaluators Panel survey. Journal of the American Dental Association (1939). 152. 669-670.e2. 10.1016/j.adaj.2021.05.018.

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