A dental digital workflow will look different depending on the problem, its level of complexity, the type of treatment needed, and complicating factors. But unlike traditional workflows, digital technology in dentistry can make for more accuracy, automation, speed, and integration between disciplines.
In a digital workflow, the work of dentists and laboratory technicians is no longer separated by an invisible wall, as they use the same digital solutions, which, in turn, have become more engaging and understandable for the patient.
For instance, a digital denture workflow could be handled from one place, where the doctor takes the impression, plans the treatment, even for a fully edentulous patient, predicts and visualizes the outcome; help the patient see the final outcome and correct it according to their preferences; help a dental lab to design and manufacture the most suitable and anatomically correct dentures in a short period of time.
Regardless of indication of treatment type, the standard digital dental workflow will always consist of three steps:
- Scanning or digital impression taking. This step is the only one visible to the patient, since it is about capturing their dentition. A digital workflow can of course start with a conventional impression that is digitized in the lab later on, but for the patient's sake, taking the impression with an intraoral scanner would be the preferred scenario. At this stage, the patient will immediately see the 3D image of their teeth displayed on the screen, since the procedure usually takes only 2-3 minutes.
In case of a conventional impression, the lab technician also spends the same amount of time scanning traditional impressions or plaster models with a desktop scanner.
- Treatment planning and design. At this stage, doctors or dental specialists use CAD/CAM software solutions to design restorations and other treatments. Based on patient or lab feedback, the design or treatment plan can be revised or refined instantly.
- Product manufacturing. Now, all approved digital designs can be sent to dental 3D printers or milling machines for the creation of appliances (for instance aligners and retainers), dentures, crowns, bridges, splints, indirect bonding trays, or any other restoration product for the patient. At this point in the digital dental workflow, the patient comes back (or is still in the chair) and receives or starts their treatment.
Digital restorative dentistry
When it comes to reconstructing teeth for restorative purposes, a doctor has and always will be heavily relying on good collaboration with their lab. This is why digital dentistry in prosthodontics was one of the first fields to emerge.
Digital technology in implant dentistry caused an unparalleled revolution in how prosthodontists plan, design, and manufacture restorations, dentures, and implants, and how they can now treat patients. These days, a digital workflow in implant dentistry has almost fully eliminated manual processes.
For instance, dentists resort to the latest digital dentistry innovation for implantology treatment by using so-called implant surgical guide technology when installing the implant. Another field of dentistry where the revolution is apparent, is in edentulous cases: for these patients their treatment outcome is fully transparent and they can see exactly how their smile will look after the completion of treatment. Technologies for virtual smile design are not only revolutionizing dental practitioners' lives, they also do so for patients.
Digital orthodontic treatment
The way dentists can treat mal-positioned teeth, jaws, and misaligned bite patterns are brought to a whole new level with digital orthodontic care technologies. Traditional panoramic X-ray and manual methods of teeth position examination are not as accurate as impressions taken with digital dental scanners (however in some cases they can still be combined).
In digital orthodontics, 3D computer visualization helps to create a detailed model of the teeth and bites from different angles and choose the best positions for braces, invisible aligners, or other appliances.
Digital models in orthodontics also save a lot of time for design, manufacturing, and transportation since the treatment appliance can instantly be manufactured in-house (previously, clinics had to create plaster cast, which takes up a lot of space and at the same time, could damage during transportation).
Digital impressions in orthodontic treatments also have benefits for patients since it's no longer needed to experience the unpleasant gooey materials and spend hours in a dental chair.
Solutions used in the orthodontic digital workflow are applied for the following indications:
- Alignment and movement of crowded or spaced-out teeth.
- Correction of bite.
- Restoration of missing teeth.
- Correction of the teeth growth.