Virtual smile design is the representation of a new and healthy smile on a patient’s photo using dedicated smile design software. With this software, dental treatment will never be the same because in that very first step, where the dentist discusses the plan with the patient, the patient actually has the chance to reflect on the outcome and it can be modified based on their opinion. Virtual smile designing involves photographs, intraoral scans and combines these in design software that simulates a realistic smile — a real-life smile that matches the patient’s facial structure and features. Mind you: this has nothing to do with ‘photoshopping’ a perfect smile; it is a prelude to an actual new smile.
A picture is worth a thousand words when it comes to a new smile. Digital smile design provides an opportunity for effective communication. Patient and doctor can discuss treatment alternatives already in the consultation process. This type of smile simulator software can be used in any case when a patient is not satisfied with their smile.
There are two things needed for a visualization: an intraoral scan, and a digital picture of their smile. For this picture, it is important that it is static, showing maximum exposure of the teeth.
Also, optional media can be gathered such as retracted or supplemental photos and videos of the patient. Once the data of the patient is gathered and sent to the dental laboratory, the clinician will proceed to begin the patient’s treatment plan, for anything from prophilaxis (preventative treatment), to caries and local irritants removal, restorative work, extractions, or orthodontic treatments. The treatment approach will reflect the patient’s individual needs. Digital smile design software usually works with automatic positioning and can be used for cases of any complexity, for changing one tooth or the entire dentition, and also for changing the patient’s current shade. Here are the most common indications:
No matter what type of treatment might be needed for this form of esthetic dentistry, whether it is crowns, bridges, dentures, dental implants, veneers, or orthodontic aligners: it can be visualized in the smile design software before the dentist creates a personal treatment plan.
This type of co-diagnosis between patient and doctor can motivate patients to enroll in treatment. Clinicians can even show their patient photographs of other patients pre and post treatment, to illustrate the outcomes of specific procedures. Photos and images, in this way, can play a vital role in informed consent and treatment acceptance. Patients can make a truly informed decision about their future smile.
Research has shown that digital smile design software is an excellent basis for planning and guiding the desired outcome of dental treatment 1. Zimmermann M, Mehl A. Virtual smile design systems: a current review. Int J Comput Dent. 2015;18(4):303-17. English, German. PMID: 26734665.. Dental software for esthetic treatment planning will completely transform the way esthetic dentistry is functioning: not only the approach to treatment is different, but also communication with patients is much more visual. The programs and tools that are used in digital dentistry have shown to create more trust and interest in patients, which in turn leads to higher case acceptance. For patients, the biggest benefit lies in the ability to dive deeper into processes and influence them.
Patients will mostly experience the benefits of virtual design tools before the start of treatment. This period is, after all, the moment in time when they are faced with most questions about the treatment necessary and its duration. Smile simulation software helps the patient connect all the dots. The most important and tangible benefits for patients are the following:
For dentists, the benefit of using a program for digital dental smile design is that they become visual designers by building a smile digitally:
Lastly, it is important to note that software for smile design is not only relevant for use in the clinic: labs can also benefit from this type of design preparation. By superimposing the surface scans of an intraoral scanner and aligning it with the 2d photo of the patient, the lab can create a diagnostic waxup, for example. This circular patient-clinic-laboratory communication saves all parties time and eliminates communication gaps by creating predictable treatment outcomes.