Technology is rapidly changing the world of orthodontics and allows us orthodontists to deliver great care in a more accurate and comfortable manner. I’m specifically going to talk about dental impressions. They have come a long way! You have seen the traditional impressions before- that goopy pink stuff that gives you that uneasy gagging feeling as you wait for it to set up. It feels like forever as you are trying hard not regurgitate your breakfast. Well now there are intra-oral scanners that produce more comfortable and accurate impressions.
Intra-oral scanners basically consist of a wand with a camera at the tip connected to a computer. The wand either gets the images of the teeth via video or multiple pictures that are stitched together into a 3D image to produce a digital model. The 3D image can be printed into a physical model of your mouth with a 3D printer and dental appliances can then be fabricated from the printed model. Also, these 3D impressions can be emailed anywhere, eliminating the need to snail mail the traditional impression, thus making them much more earth friendly.
Intra-oral scanners have multiple advantages. For one, they are superior in their accuracy to traditional impressions. When taking a traditional impression, there are many opportunities for human error. If any air bubbles are found or if the material is distorted, the impression will have to be retaken. After you take your impression, you then have to pour it into plaster. Again, more human error here as you can have air bubbles in critical areas of the impression or worse you drop the plaster model and it breaks! Yup, you guessed it, the patient then has to come back and have the impression re-taken. With a digital impression, if there is an area that questionable, all you have to do is just re-scan that one spot in seconds and not redo the whole impression. Multiple impressions are eliminated because you can use the same scan to print as many models as needed.
Another advantage is for patients that have a strong gag reflex. The feeling of putty running down your throat is eliminated. I have had some severe gaggers in my practice do really well with the intra-oral scanner. Patients don’t like to be gagged and we don’t like to gag our patients. It is truly a win-win in the orthodontic profession.
The applications for the intra-oral scanner are constantly increasing and this is certainly a piece of technology that is here to stay.