A dental laboratory scanner, also called a dental model scanner is a desktop scanner that allows dental technicians to simply place a model (or die — a small model of the crown or root surface of the tooth) inside it, press a button, and the scanner generates a 3D model. Usually 3D scanners for dental models are sold as a bundle with a software package that lets the dental technician start design and production right away. This is also called CAD/CAM dental software: the dental lab utilizes computer-aided design technology.
The scanner generates a digital file for you within a matter of seconds. Based on the type of treatment that the dental technician is going to design for, the accuracy can be defined beforehand.
The way the scanner works is by simultaneously projecting light onto the scanned object and capturing an image of the object with on-board cameras. Combined, this will generate a 3D model of the object right away.
Some scanners use laser light, but nowadays most scanners use structured light. Using structured light is generally seen as more practical, because it allows for an open scanner, which is easier to operate. The dental technician doesn't need to open and close the scanner but can just place the object on the holder and the scanning begins automatically.
Benefits of lab scanners:
Depending on the restoration you are working on, accuracy can define quality. The choice of a lab scanner is dictated by the restorations the lab is producing. If your restorations are complex, it is generally recommended to choose a scanner with higher accuracy. Implants, for example, require the highest degree of accuracy. On the other hand, for technicians new to CAD/CAM systems that work on basic restorations, the highest degree of accuracy does not play a key role.
As mentioned, scanners vary in the way they function. However, the evolution of scan technology has reached a point where most model scanners perform in more or less the same way. Comparing dental laboratory scanners on quality will not show big differences, but it does pay off to look at surrounding factors such as what it’s used for, integrations with software technology, and cost. Let’s look at a few of the commonly used comparison criteria below:
You need colored texture in order to see e.g. line drawing on models. This is particularly important if you, for instance, are working on digital removable partial dentures, where you have analyzed the model and drawn clasps to be followed. It adds an extra option for clear communication and can also help to educate technicians with less experience.
The number of cameras tells you something about the maximum level of accuracy you can reach with the dental model scanner. Accuracy gains importance when working with implants for example. With more cameras, a scanner can collect information from deep inside the cavities which is especially useful for die-in-model scanning. In this case, there is no need to scan the dies separately which saves time.
The degree of accuracy of a scanner is expressed in microns. A micron measures length; one micron is one thousandth of a millimeter. To give you an idea of what this means: a human hair is about 5 microns across in width. An accuracy level of between 4 and 15 microns is the standard for lab scanners these days.
The number of megapixels that the camera can capture plays an important but not conclusive part too. A pixel is a single point in a graphic image. The pixels are so close together that they appear connected. The higher the number of pixels, the higher the accuracy.
It is important to keep in mind that even though sometimes higher accuracy is better, it also slows down the equipment because it will need time to calculate all details. In some situations, lower accuracy is therefore a better choice because it allows for faster work.
A 3D dental model scanner cannot work on its own. It will always come with some form of scanner software to -at a minimum- display the 3D file on screen and generate a dental project from it. In addition, dental technicians that design digitally, need access to a CAD solution that enables them to work on the file, and design the restoration, for example. Some scanner providers sell their products as a bundle: you buy the hardware and that comes with (a variation of) dental design software. An additional benefit of this is that you can often advertise your lab to their intraoral scanner users.
Other scanner providers sell their scanners as standalone items and in these situations, the dental lab needs to decide for themselves which CAD solution they want to work with. Another thing to keep in mind when assessing software options is how well the lab scanner integrates with other parties: it can be beneficial to ensure that your software can not only import your own scanner output, but also work with STL output or third party scans such as intraoral scans from Sirona, Planmeca or Carestream, even if you’re a 3Shape user yourself.
When working with a lab scanner, the manufacturer will usually offer a support setup to help you with unexpected situations. It depends on the agreement whether you get support through your reseller or if you can get help from the manufacturer directly. Some agreements even include a service package that allows for unlimited support, upgrades and replacement service. LabCare for example is 3Shape’s way of offering labs peace of mind when it comes to their digital technology.
If you want to compare scanners for their price, it’s vital to keep in mind that accuracy and software options are two variables that highly affect the price. A dental laboratory scanner that is suited for an implant workflow and that comes with implant planning software will come at a different price than a scanner for a simple crown workflow that is sent off to a treatment provider. A scanner has to fit the lab’s overall needs and this is different from lab to lab. Most countries have dental purchasing partners that can help compare prices and setups in order to make the best decision for the lab.