Restorations are a key revenue driver for big and small practices alike, the backbone for these procedures is taking an accurate dental impression. For almost a century, clinicians have used the same impression techniques to produce a final restoration. This traditional technique involves injecting polyvinyl siloxane, also known as PVS material, into an impression tray and applying it to the patient’s mouth. Over the last decade, dentistry has seen a rise in the adoption and the innovation of digital intraoral scanners as a more modern solution to taking oral impressions. Taking impressions with digital intraoral scanners offers many advantages compared to its older counterparts with few downsides.
Digital Impressions vs. Traditional PVS Impressions
When choosing an impression technology, it is essential to weigh the pros and cons of both digital and traditional impressions. Traditional impressions utilize impression materials to produce a mold-ready product for labs, including materials such as PVS, 3M ESPE, VPS, and polyether. Digital impressions, on the other hand, utilize modern optical sensors and software to produce a 3D impression model. Regarding both techniques’ costs to the practice, there are four critical areas to consider: patient experience, impression accuracy, chairside time, and material cost.
The Patient Experience
The lifeblood of any practice’s success lies in the patient experience, and each patient needs a positive experience so they can refer more business. Positive patient experiences are built from three major initiatives: making patients comfortable, ensuring convenience, and increasing financial accessibility. Unfortunately, for dental practices utilizing traditional impressions, all three factors are negatively impacted.
Traditional impressions degrade the patient experience as the fundamental qualities of the PVS material, and the techniques required to get an accurate impression are unnatural. For many patients, PVS trays are uncomfortable to place in the mouth and, when combined with the PVS material, lead to a suffocating and awkward experience. The depth of insertion in the material often leads to a gagging reflex in the patient, causing extreme discomfort and the patient feeling that something has gone wrong.
Digital impressions offer a more hospitable experience for patients as neither tray nor putty silicone impression material is needed. Dentists utilizing intraoral scanners, such as the Trios scanner, insert the small and discreet scanner tip into the mouth and scan along the occlusal ridge while the patient opens their mouth. Using a digital scanner does not obstruct the patient’s ability to breathe nor activates their gag reflex, leading to a much more comfortable experience.
When it comes to convenience, time savings for the patient is the most critical factor. Appointments are usually scheduled during work, causing a sense of urgency for many patients who want to return to their daily programming. Traditional impressions require prep time, setting time, and longer impression time to produce an accurate bite registration. Digital impressions, however, need little to no prep time, and digital scanning can be completed in a few minutes without any set time or wait time for the patient.
Accuracy of Impression
Inaccurate impressions can lead to multiple patient visits and materials. The most crucial aspect of garnering accurate impressions is ensuring the impressionist knows which type of technique to use according to the procedure. Traditional impressions are still widely regarded for producing highly accurate impressions. Due to PVS material’s ability to contour around soft tissue and form around intricate details, it is heralded for its ability to produce highly accurate results. Ensuring the impression material is formatted correctly and set is crucial for such effects. While PVS accuracy is high, the difference between traditional and digital accuracy is more significant, seen only in specific cases.
Digital impressions use optical scans to reproduce a virtual model of the patient’s mouth. Digital impressions utilize cutting-edge dental technology such as interlaced mapping through software and state-of-the-art optical sensors, which allow dentists to take highly accurate impressions in most cases. When combined with a CAD/CAM team for case review and design, digital impressions offer a highly detailed impression with the added benefit of digital impression retention. Digital impression retention lets labs retain the impression data and reproduce restorative work without needing a new impression from the patient.
The accuracy of both impression techniques is similar. Clinicians who do not regularly need extreme detail for unique cases should feel comfortable utilizing digital impressions for most of their caseload. Traditional impressions may provide an incremental accuracy advantage for highly specialized or unique procedures. As technology advances, digital impressions are expected to produce even more accurate models than traditional PVS impression material can provide.
Optimizing chairside time is critical for every practice looking to increase revenue and patient flow. While there are many factors for managing chairside turnaround, impressions often are seen as a risk factor in the daily schedules of thousands of practices. Remakes, multiple impressions, extended patient seating times, and other factors contribute to the risk of impression procedures.
With traditional PVS impressions, the time spent chairside takes 18 minutes on average. This timeframe only includes placing the impression material in a patient’s mouth, waiting for it to set, repeating the process with multiple trays, and adjusting the impressions as needed. If remakes are required, the actual chairside time dentists spend can skyrocket.
Alternatively, digital impressions typically take only a few minutes chairside as the digital scan captures the impression in real time without requiring dentists to wait for the material to be set or remade. Additionally, the impression data can be stored by the lab and used as a reference point for future work, negating any additional patient visits.
Cost of Material
The last factor to consider when comparing impression techniques is the material cost per impression. Traditional impressions require a procedure by-procedure material investment cost of around $30, including PVS impression material and tray. The possibility of inaccurate or ruined impressions means that this cost can quickly conflate if practices are not careful in their procedures. On the other hand, digital scanning technology requires an upfront investment in a scan body, usually within the $21,000 – $30,000 range. Most practices quickly see a quick return on investment as they no longer require material investment, and the impression procedure is exponentially faster, saving time for practitioners.
The True Cost of using PVS Impressions
Every practice owner understands one fundamental principle that governs their dental practice operations: time is money. Increasing efficiency across workflows and decreasing operating costs are integral to the success of every practice. Practices using PVS impressions experience a more challenging time optimizing both of these levers as the actual cost of PVS impressions doesn’t stop at investment in the silicone material. Traditional impression methods increase chairside time costing practitioners upwards of $36,000 in production costs per year. When combined with the material cost of each impression and the negative experience it provides patients, the actual price could be detrimental to practice success.
Digital impressions, on the other hand, let practitioners quickly grab the patient’s impression and do not require an ongoing material cost after the initial scan body has been purchased. This leads to a much more sustainable model long-term.
Want to learn more about taking digital impressions and the benefits of digital intraoral scanning? Learn how digital impressions increase consistency and quality for crown and bridge restorations in this on-demand webinar.