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Use generative AI for your dental crown designs

Karl Hollenbeck

Head of AI Team


You cannot watch the news these days without seeing a story on AI. From Chat GPT to Tik Tok, healthcare professionals, scientists, and politicians weigh in daily with their thoughts on the new technology.

In 3Shape, we've used AI extensively in our software, and just a few years ago, we shook up the dental world by introducing 3Shape Automate – a dental design service exclusively powered by AI. As the Head of AutodontiX, the 3Shape division responsible for our AI research and development, I thought it was time to set the record straight on what AI in 3Shape Automate is about.

Read on to learn how AI has been and will be impacting your dentistry.

What our AI dental software is, and what it isn’t

Occasionally I get an email or meet someone at a show that compliments me on the speed and skill of our 3Shape Automate designers. 

I think at some point, I need to talk to our marketing department. There are still some professionals who do not realize that no one is behind the wheel designing crowns at 3Shape Automate.

Automate is a division of 3Shape Design Services. It is also entirely run by AI. As a lab technician, you send your intraoral scan to Automate, and it designs what you need in as little as five minutes.

Margin visualized with green in when undercut is absent and red if there are undercuts

Distances and thickness on a color map with fixed color scale

Occlusal view and lingual and buccal anatomy of the proposed design

Distal and mesial views showing the emergence profile for the design and how the cusps align

There is no one designing the crowns and nightguards but Automate’s AI. No one is corresponding with you. It is only AI designing your case and sending it back to you. 

That’s what makes it ideal for professionals looking for a helping hand during busy periods, an employee is out, or you want to outsource some of your posterior crown designs.

This piece of AI software never takes a vacation and is available 24/7, so you can access it from anywhere in the world and get a design back in as little as five minutes. 

The designs it creates are also editable, so if you want to change something, you can. And importantly, you do not pay Automate for a design if you do not approve it. You can edit it first and then decide if you still want it.

By the way, the acceptance rate for Automate designs is more than 90%. And that's with over one million designs made. 

How does this piece of dental design software work?

Back in 2012, there was an influential neural network called AlexNet. It looked at analyzing 2D images detecting features, recognizing, and being able to outline things in the image. Many consider this the beginning of AI.

Now with 3Shape Automate, we are analyzing 3D images, so it is more complex than 2D image analysis.

We are also doing what is termed generative AI. That is, the AI is generating something based on its analysis. It is like Chat GPT, which creates something based on your prompt and the material it finds on the subject. 

In our case, the scan and some design preferences are the prompt. Automate is creating, for example, a crown design based on the scan and what it knows about designing a crown. It analyzes all the parameters and measurements and goes to work.

Training the dental software to design crowns and nightguards

To teach Automate how to design, we gave it crown and nightguard designs. From these, Automate learned.

It has a neural network and looks at tens of thousands of parameters each time it creates a design. So, in this respect, it is like a person in that it systematically processes all this data absorbs it and learns how to create from it. The more it does, the better it gets.

You are basically training a very complex modeling solution. But any result from it is solely based on its data memory and the input (scan and design preferences) you give it.

Because it is a generative AI solution, it isn't just detecting, for example, the margin line or where the prep is, it is designing the crown. So, Automate jumps from 2D to 3D.

3Shape patent supported

Because Automate is such a giant leap forward, much of the 3Shape technology that goes into it is either patented by 3Shape or in the process of being patented right now. We are truly breaking ground with the solution. 

But again, Automate is basing all of its crown and nightguard proposals on scans fed into the system and whatever design preferences you request. 

Like Chat GPT, when you ask it to write a song that sounds like John Lennon, it's basing its answer on the thousands of songs Lennon composed, not on a Michael Jackson song. It can only do what it knows or has been fed into it.

The reason why our AI generated crowns fit so well

One of the comments we love hearing is users telling us how good Automate crowns fit. The reason for this has nothing to do with AI. It's the algorithms in our CAD/CAM dental design software that anyone who uses our 3Shape software has available too.

We have designed so many crowns with Dental System that it doesn't matter if it's a lab tech or Automate, our algorithms know how to design the inside of a crown to make it fit.

So, when it comes to crown design, Automate does all the analysis, like measurements, etc., and designing the crown's anatomy, but 3Shape Dental System is the one doing the inside of the crown. And that's important because Dental System uses traditional algorithms that we know are tested, tried, and true. It's why Automate designs don't rock on the tooth.

When it comes to the inside of the crown, whether it's Automate or a CDT doing the design, our Dental System software algorithm will enforce the minimal thickness of the material and not let either of you make a design mistake.

And by using Dental System, it reiterates the original intention behind Automate: to support labs only when they need help. Automate is an extra designer when you need one. 

Case Study: 6 crowns in 2 hours

Imagine one of your patients wants a less expensive and very fast solution for a much-needed treatment. This doctor accomplished it with the help of Automate: preparing, designing, printing and placing 6 crowns in 2 hours with 3Shape Automate and Flexera Smile Ultra crowns.


Ease of use and editing 3Shape Automate designs

One of the great features of Automate is that the whole user interface is browser-based. You load up your scans from your PC and receive the designs back to review from your browser. If you want to edit the design, you do it from your browser using Automate's editing tools.

Modify the design

Once you are satisfied, you approve the design, pay for it, and download it. You do not pay before you approve.

If you have not tried Automate, you can try a few cases for free. 3Shape LabCare customers get a 10% discount on all designs.

What's also great about 3Shape Automate is that it is open. You can send orders from our Dental System or Exocad software. Medit, Shining 3D, and ZirkonZahn scans can be sent by exporting them in an Exocad format. 


AI is under scrutiny from all sides right now. Some of it is justified. But a solution like Automate uses AI to design and support labs. Our lab customers love it.

For example, Megan Nakanishi from Nakanishi Dental Lab says, "With 3Shape Automate, we have doubled the amounts of available units to mill every day. For us, this has doubled our material efficiency and resulted in significant savings."

If you are a lab, why not try it for free? See if it helps you go home early on a Friday afternoon or when someone calls in sick or is out on vacation.

In Automate's case, AI is a great thing. Just don’t ask Sarah Connor. 

AI in dentistry

Try AI-generated crown design for free for your first orders. For follow-up orders, LabCare customers get 10% discount.

About Karl Hollenbeck

Karl Hollenbeck

Head of AI Team


Karl has been with 3Shape for more than sixteen years. During his time with the company, he has been involved in the development of the original prototypes for the 3Shape TRIOS intraoral scanner and the D line of dental lab scanners. He is also instrumental in introducing a Quality Management System to 3Shape and spearheading the company’s FDA audit.

For the past four years Karl has been responsible for the independent, strategic team at AutodontiX, a division of 3Shape. Aside from his managerial duties with AutodontiX, he still finds time to write much of the code used in 3Shape’s AI-driven applications.

Karl has supplemented his degrees from the Danish Technical University and Copenhagen Business School with programs from the University of Freiburg, INSEAD, Harvard Business School, Stanford University, and the University of Virginia.

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