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What is digital dentistry?

I love digital dentistry, I'm a huge and unashamed geek about it but I'm well aware that it very much sounds like a buzz phrase. Something that sounds good but may well mean very little. Maybe everyone's doing it. Maybe nobody else is doing it and that's because it's actually rubbish.


So what does digital dentistry actually mean?


Simple answer: digital dentistry is using computers and technology to improve the care that we provide for our patients.


There are myriad ways in which we can do this and I want to share a few of these to give you a small flavour of what this actually means for you. Why is digital dentistry better for patients? What difference does digital dentistry make in the real world?


Primescan

intra oral scan primescan of upper teeth

Our intra-oral scanner (Primescan) allows us to scan your teeth using a small camera that reconstructs a 3D image of your mouth on the computer, meaning we no longer need to put the old gungy gooey gaggy moulds that take an age to set into your mouth. The scan is clean and quick, taking less than a minute to scan the upper teeth and about the same again for the lowers.


We can then use this scan to explain your treatment, make new crowns (see CEREC below), make retainers to straighten your teeth (SureSmile), monitor tooth wear and many many more things.


We have a great team at Smiles in Tandem and we're constantly discussing the best way to care for each patient. Having a 3D model of your teeth to study when you're not sat in the chair allows us to work together like never before to plan the best way to keep your teeth healthy for the long term.


When we need to, these 3D models can also be printed, though we're needing to do this less and less as we continue to make all our processes digital.


CEREC


Far and away my favourite bit of digital dentistry is our digital workflow for making crowns. Gone are the days when you need those gooey impressions of your teeth (though they're still done in a lot of dental practices). Gone are the days of needing a temperamental temporary crown for two weeks while a dental laboratory somewhere miles away makes your new permanent one. Gone are the days of the crown not fitting because the impression wasn't right, or the plaster mould wasn't right, or any one of the many steps in making an old style crown haven't been done just right.


Using this scan, we can then design and make your crown there and then for you, checking the shade match before doing the final bits of artistic flare to make it look as natural as possible. We can then fit the crown at the very same visit. Not only is it a lot quicker, the porcelain is milled (cut out) from a solid block of porcelain, instead of being layered up and fired, making it stronger than older crowns in many cases.

Waste from making a single crown the old way

Nothing is ever perfect 100% of the time.

I used to need to remake roughly 1 in 7 crowns when I sent them to the laboratory, because they didn't fit right, or look right. Now I need to remake about 1 in 50 meaning I get it right for my patients first time, almost every time.


Finally, and importantly for our practice, the amount of waste that's generated is a fraction using the digital processes compared to the old way.

A CEREC block

The only bit of waste is the metal stump that holds the block while it's being made.


Like anything, it's important that it's used correctly and for the right patients and treatments. I still think I can get slightly better aesthetic results in some situations (such as making multiple crowns on front teeth) by using a dental laboratory in combination with our intra oral scanner.





Photography


We also take lots of photographs. We have a DSLR camera set up and ready to go at all times which we use for record keeping, tracking changes in your teeth from things like tooth wear, communicating with laboratories. These digital images form an important part of everything we do now and are a key aspect of digital dentistry.


CBCT scanning


Cone Beam Computer Tomography (CBCT) is a 3D x ray of your jaw. It's particularly useful in planning treatments like difficult extractions (heaven forbid) or implant placements. It forms another part of the digital journey for our patients in certain situations and helps us plan the best possible results for them.



Patient Portal

The final part of digital dentistry I want to share with you is our patient portal. The link for this is sent out to all our patients before each appointment and it allows them to log in, check their appointment times and dates, their details, update their medical history, complete consent forms and review their treatment plan and costs.


Our portal has proved really popular and has allowed us to massively reduce the amount of paper waste we create and saves our patients time on the day of their appointment.



There's so much more to digital dentistry, from making our systems more efficient in-house to collaborative treatment planning with colleagues from anywhere in the world, it's all opening up new opportunities to provide the best possible care for our patients. The world of digital dentistry is constantly evolving, as we are pushing to be at the forefront of making the best use of new technology as it emerges, and trying to innovate to keep improving.




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