The Articulate Dentist - A Blog by the Metro Denver Dental Society

The Future of Digital Dentistry

 By: Ms. Cindy Kelly

Intra Oral scanners for the dental practice, much like computers and cell phones, have become smaller, faster, more accurate, more affordable and undoubtedly something we can’t live without. I/O scanning software continues to evolve and become more user-friendly, streamlining workflows and shortening turnaround times. “The accuracy, patient comfort and time effectiveness of intraoral scanners are incomparable to traditional techniques. The percentage of dentist-clients prescribing digital restorations has nearly doubled since 2010,” based on LMT’s 2018 Dentist Survey.

Digital technology in dentistry isn’t just changing the daily workflow for dentists and lab technicians, it is impacting the patient experience as well. Patients are more educated about dental technology than ever before. They are being informed about digital dentistry on social media, and from friends and family who have experienced shorter appointments, quicker turnaround times for delivery of the final restoration and no goopy impressions, resulting in a far more pleasant dental appointment.

Today, with many systems using Near Infrared technology, you can take a full upper and lower digital impression, digitally stored study casts, a shade, intra-oral photos, caries detection, and even show time lapse videos of progressive wear on a patient’s teeth, eliminating the need for multiple devices and repetitive sterilization. Patients can see first-hand the need for treatment to eliminate future damage. In the case of a treatment planned occlusal guard, many clinicians are placing the images of patients wear from previous appointments side by side with a current image to show new wear patterns, and additionally showing an image of projected future wear with Time Lapse Technology. Often a clinician will leave the patient while they step out of the room for a moment to view the images. Studies have shown this can increase patient acceptance by 71%. Patients not only appreciate the state-of-the-art technology but also value being more engaged and better informed. This technology helps diagnose, treatment plan, and execute in a very accurate, streamlined environment. Once you have made the decision to invest in digital dentistry and incorporate the digital workflow in your business plan, there are several things to keep in mind.

Cheaper is Not Always Better
You get what you pay for. Many of us have learned this life lesson, and this certainly pertains to digital technology. A few questions to research include:

  • How long has the system been on the market?
  • How long has the manufacturer been in business?
  • Can you add on or upgrade the system?
  • Is it an open system?
  • Is there a yearly fee?
  • What is the fee per scan?
  • What kind of support and training is offered?

After the Sale
The Institute of Digital Dentistry ( provides a valuable resource for non-biased product comparison and education. I/O Scanner technology is an investment, so time should be spent researching which system will work best in your practice and produce the best ROI.

Start Simple
In-office milling, orthodontics, fixed restorative, surgical guides, splints and dentures are just some of the capabilities of today’s scanners. Excelling at each application is a process, and not every application is the right fit for every office or clinician. Try focusing on just one aspect of your new I/O system to get yourself started. The most common missteps we see as a dental laboratory when practices implement a new I/O system is a clinician will start out with a large case or difficult scan because they are excited about the new technology. Clinicians are encouraged to start with posterior single units, rather than multiple anterior units or implant cases. Following the proper preparation, retraction, and isolation rules indicated by the manufacture are absolute key to success!

Do you want to be a technician and make the crowns in-office or would you prefer to outsource manufacturing to an experienced lab? Most I/O systems have endless possibilities once you have mastered the basics such as multiple unit cases, implants, occlusal guards, custom trays, surgical stents, dentures, all-on-four hybrid cases. The technology continues to become more accurate with constant upgrades and the future capabilities seem endless.

Digital dentistry can be easily incorporated into any office if you have a team around you that embraces the technology. Your dental team should understand the benefits of digital technology not only to the patient and the office but to them personally. Too often implementing new technology can fail due to push back by staff fears that it will replace their position. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The technology is designed to make life easier, but it’s a paradigm shift. There are new things to learn and more efficient ways to complete our daily tasks, making our jobs new and exciting from the daily grind of analog dentistry. Lots of offices come up with fun incentives to get the whole team on board, and reward team members for embracing the technology; such as contests for the team member who’s scan time and accuracy increased the most.

Even the most tech savvy clinician can experience a learning curve. When choosing a scanner that is right for your practice, education should be a priority. Be sure to ask your sales representative about the initial training and follow-up. A single training session is very often not adequate or staffing changes may result in requiring additional training for new team members. Schedule routine training for you and your staff. Join social media groups specific to digital dentistry that are peer driven. This often exposes you to real world problems and instant solutions. It can be frustrating to have a patient in the chair while experiencing a technical issue and needing to wait for technical support to return your call.

Communication in the dental profession has always been key and digital dentistry simplifies the accuracy of communication on many levels. This technology has improved with the digital workflow for the clinician and the lab technician in the past couple of years. It is vital the IOS assistants understand the importance of the fields they choose on the digital Rx, such as crown material, shade and due date. A complete Rx is one of the keys to success. This will replace the written Rx and will become everyone’s record. There are required fields to be completed in addition to comment fields for special instructions. The ability to check scans before the patient leaves the chair is priceless in eliminating the need to bring a patient back for re-prep or re-impressioning.

Find a Digital Lab
An estimated 59% of dental laboratories are now accepting digital files. Partnering with the right lab after your investment is crucial. When implementing the technology into your practice, it’s vital to partner with a lab committed to CAD/CAM and embracing the digital workflow. Your lab partner should have technicians in place fully educated and able to be a resource for you especially during the learning curve. Ask your lab if they produce the product in-house or outsource. Is the lab educated in milling, 3D printing or both?

Treatment planning and executing a case has never been easier or more accurate. From clear aligners and digital dentures to single crowns and full mouth rehabilitation, the possibilities seem to be all encompassing on the digital highway!

Cindy Kelly is co-owner of 5280creations, a digital dental laboratory in Thornton, CO. 5280creations houses three CAD systems powered by 3Shape, Cerec InLab and Itero, three CAD CAM mills (Sirona and Wieland) and an Asiga 3d printer and proudly manufactures all restorations and appliances in-house They have also partnered with major manufactures to provide virtual study clubs for future and existing users of I/O systems. Please contact, if you would like to be notified of event dates.