What are Digital Impressions for Dentistry

Digital impression

Let’s be honest: historically, the dentist’s office hasn’t been a place people associated with a good time. Nearly 6 out of 10 adults report that a trip to the dentist is an experience they dread, because many of the traditional dental workflows are uncomfortable (if not downright painful). 

Fortunately, the progress made in modern dental technology has eliminated traditional types of dental impressions, making it a pleasant experience for patients and dentists alike. 

But what are digital impressions, how do they work, and why are they making trips to the dentist a far less long and agonizing affair? Here, we’ll demystify the trade secret and discuss how digital dental impressions are revolutionizing patient experience and outcomes. 

Traditional Impressions in Cosmetic Dentistry: Development and Drawbacks

Dentists have been using traditional dental impressions for centuries to gain insights into the patient’s teeth and mouth. These often served as the mold that would be used for various restorations, such as: 

  • Dental crowns
  • Implant-supported bridges
  • Dentures
  • Partials
  • Nightguards
  • Dental implants
  • Aligners

Over time, the materials and methods used to create an impression have steadily advanced. One such development was the rise of elastomeric impression materials for prosthodontic practitioners, which significantly enhanced impression accuracy, durability, and, ultimately, the caliber of care offered to patients.

While the use of new materials was a step forward in the impression process, it did little to change many of the obstacles dental professionals faced in their workflow. Dentists and patients still had to battle through the same onerous steps to execute an impression:

  1. The dentist prepares a preliminary mold of the edentulous patient’s mouth.
  2. The dentist puts impression materials (typically alginate or polyvinyl siloxane) into the dental stock tray.
  3. The preliminary impression is captured by inserting a tray into the patient’s mouth, pressing it firmly against the teeth, and waiting a few minutes as the putty hardens.
  4. The dentist carefully removes the dental tray from the patient.
  5. The impression material is poured into the dental stone, and a dental vibrator removes air pockets.
  6. The mold is sent to a lab to make a fabrication. 

All told, this process can absorb a good deal of chair time—and over a week for the mold to reach the labs. 

Drawbacks of Traditional Impressions 

Conventional dental impressions have been a near-universal method used by all dentists, but it comes with some significant flaws: 

  • Error-prone – Even if the process goes smoothly, the final impressions may not be sufficiently accurate. One 2020 study found that 64.5% of impressions a lab received were inadequate or unacceptable. The most common issues included: 
  • Unset material within the impression
  • Light-bodied material pulling away from heavy-bodied impression material
  • Voids in the margin
  • Impression failed to capture the entire margin
  • Pulls and drags in the impression 

Worst of all, this would only be discovered after the lab received the impression. As a result, the dentist would need to schedule another appointment with the patient to perform the entire procedure over again. 

  • Discomfort – The mold-taking process could be an incredibly uncomfortable experience for the patient, especially for those with small mouths or strong gag reflexes.
  •  Time-consuming – Appointments for retrieving impressions can extend appointments up to 15 to 20% of chair time per patient—and that was if everything went right and there wasn’t a need to take a second impression. 
  • Expensive – Traditional molds require dental clinics to spend money on one-off resources like impression materials and dental trays. 

Fortunately, for both dentists and patients, traditional dental impression methodologies are being progressively phased out by emerging dental technologies. Case in point: digital impressions.

What Are Digital Impressions?

Digital impressions are a computerized mold of the patients mouth created by a piece of equipment known as an intraoral scanner. The intraoral scanner records the size and shape of each tooth automatically, instantly combining retrieved data into a 3D rendering of the patient’s mouth that’s then visible on a monitor.

Intraoral scanners are powered by intelligent processing, resulting in faster, unprecedentedly precise results compared with their conventional predecessors. Put simply, it’s a rapid-fire, pain-free, no-gag alternative to dental impressions that are traditionally casted.

Digital dental impression technologies like Dandy’s Chairside platform and the Trios intraoral scanner are steadily transforming the impression-taking process. 

But it’s not just the impression-taking process that digital dental impressions streamline. Once an impression is captured, that image can then be immediately shipped to a digital lab for fabrication. 

After the lab has the file, they’ll utilize computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing (CAD/CAM) software to design and fabricate the prosthesis—be it a crown, dentures, or an overlay. Lab technicians and dental professionals will then make adjustments to ensure proper alignment and spacing. And from there, the milling machine will shape the restoration from a single ceramic block.  

Benefits of Digital Impressions 

Digital technology has transformed procedures and customer outcomes across medical fields. And while some practitioners embrace these developments, others may be more hesitant to revise the skills and methodologies they spent years acquiring in dentistry school—and understandably so!

So, how can digital impressions enhance, rather than stymy, office workflows, grades of care, and the financial health of your dental practice? There are four major benefits to be aware of when considering digital impressions vs traditional impressions:

  • Less chair time – With digital impressions, patients spend far less time in the chair. As such, patients require fewer appointments to treat, enabling dental professionals to see more patients. 
  • Improved patient satisfaction – The digital impression process is fast and comfortable. This creates a better experience for patients while also improving treatment outcomes. When patients are satisfied, they’re more likely to remain loyal and recommend your practice to others.
  • Efficient communication with the dental lab – Traditional impression procedures were characterized by substantial back-and-forth between the clinic and the lab. Digital impressions enable the lab to spot an issue immediately and request a secondary impression—a real-time workflow that prevents the hassle of scheduling a second impression appointment. 
  • Fewer errors – Digital impressions are far more accurate than conventional impressions. Moreover, they’re less prone to many of the human errors associated with manually administered impressions.  

Simplify Your Practice with Digital Impressions by Dandy

Digitized equipment and procedures are raising the bar for what’s possible in modern cosmetic dentistry. While patient care still requires a human touch, software and automated equipment are advancing procedural consistency, efficacy, accuracy, and, ultimately, clinical outcomes for patients. 

For many dental professionals, digital impressions represent the first touchpoint along the path to a hybrid practice. It’s turning a common procedure that patients dreaded into a fast, pain-free process.

Dandy is here to help you break the mold. Our mission is simple: to make your process easier by making the entire dental process digital, from beginning to end. If you want to learn more, schedule a call with us today. 

Sources: 

Dental Products Report. Study Finds More Than 60 Percent Of People Suffer From Dental Fear. https://www.dentalproductsreport.com/view/researchers-from-korea-advanced-institute-of-science-and-technology-develop-insect-eye-intraoral-camera

NIH. The Historical Evolution of Dental Impression Materials. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28777510/

BMC Oral Health. Evaluation of the Quality of Fixed Prosthesis Impressions in Private Laboratories in a Sample from Yemen. https://bmcoralhealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12903-020-01294-1