The Evolution of Dental Impressions: Digital vs. Traditional Methods

March 29, 2023

dental impressions
Greg Schubert | Blog Author at Pro-Craft

Written by:
Greg Schubert

Digital Dental Impressions vs. Traditional Dental Impressions

Nov 23, 2021

As dental professionals, staying at the forefront of technology is essential in delivering the best care to patients. One aspect that has witnessed a significant transformation is dental impressions. Today, let's delve into the world of digital impressions, how they compare with traditional methods, and the processes involved.

Dental impressions provide the groundwork for all restorative treatments. Every dental restoration case is based on the quality of the impression. When you have a poor impression, it can lead to costly remakes, delays, and improper fit. While traditional impressions are still widely used today, the development of new intraoral digital scanners to produce digital impressions has thrived over the past decade.  So how does this new technology stack up? Let’s find out.

Traditional Dental Impressions: The Classic Approach

Traditional dental impressions have been a staple in dentistry for decades. This method involves using a tray filled with a putty-like substance to create a mold of the patient’s teeth and gums. The patient must bite into this substance and wait for it to set, which can sometimes be uncomfortable.

Traditional Dental Impression Process:

  1. Selection of a proper-sized tray.
  2. Mixing of impression material.
  3. Placing the material in the tray.
  4. Positioning the tray in the patient’s mouth and waiting for the material to set.
  5. Removal of the tray, creating a physical mold to be sent to the laboratory.

Though widely practiced, this method is not without its challenges, such as potential discomfort for the patient, susceptibility to human error, and a longer processing time.

Digital Dental Impressions: The Modern Take

In contrast to the traditional method, digital impressions employ 3D scanning technology to create a digital model of the teeth, gums, and bite. This method has gained traction due to its accuracy, efficiency, and patient comfort.

Digital Dental Impression Process:

  1. Preparation of the patient's mouth by cleaning the teeth and gums.
  2. Use of a handheld intraoral scanner to capture images of the teeth and gums.
  3. Assembling these images into a 3D model on the computer.
  4. Immediate availability of the digital impression for review and sending to the laboratory electronically.

Benefits of Digital Impressions

Digital impressions boast several advantages over their traditional counterparts:

  • Improved Accuracy: Digital impressions allow for better fitting and more anatomically correct restorations. Digital cases with PRO-Craft statistically have a lower remake factor than conventional cases. 
  • Reduced Time: The process is quicker, requiring no set time.
  • Increased Efficiency: Digital files can be sent electronically, speeding up communication with the laboratory.
  • Increased Patient Satisfaction: Faster appointments, less time in the dental chair, and reduced patient discomfort with less gag reflex. 
  • Reduced Environmental Footprint: Digital impressions significantly reduce the environmental footprint by eliminating the need for disposable impression materials and trays, and cutting down on shipping and storage needs.
  • Decreased Overhead Costs and Inventory: Reduces the need for impression material, shipping, storage, or model sterilization.

A Note on Precision for Digital Dental Impressions

However, it's important to mention that one study found digital impressions to have inferior precision compared to traditional impressions. This suggests that while digital impressions excel in several areas, there may be specific cases where the traditional method could be more appropriate.

Troubleshooting Digital Dental Scans

Sometimes you may encounter issues with your digital scanner. Here’s a condensed guide for common issues on how to troubleshoot digital impressions:

  1. Smudged Lenses: If you spot smudges on the lenses, these could hamper image quality.

    • Fix: For the patient's sleeve, use damp gauze or a cotton ball to clean the lens, then dry it. For the optical lens, use the cloth that came with your scanner.
  2. Excess Saliva: Too much moisture can hinder image capture.

    • Fix: Delete the current scan. Dry the teeth with air or gauze, focusing on the occlusal surface, and then start scanning again.
  3. Scan Technique Issues: The scanner's wand must touch the teeth for optimal scanning.

    • Fix: Follow the scanning sequence: occlusal, lingual, buccal, and incisal roll of each arch. If the scanner loses track, backtrack to the last image. Ensure the lens is touching the teeth and continue scanning once the model starts building.
  4. Wand Turning On & Off: If the wand turns off and on during scanning, it might create purple images that don’t stitch together.

    • Fix: Don’t turn the wand off between scanning each arch. If the model stops building mid-scan, back up to the last image without turning the wand off. When the model starts moving, resume scanning. Delete any purple images.

Weighing Digital and Traditional Dental Techniques for Superior Patient Care

In conclusion, digital impressions represent a groundbreaking shift in dental technology, offering an accurate and efficient alternative to traditional methods. However, as a dental professional, it is crucial to evaluate each case individually and choose the method that ensures the best results for the patient. Balancing the advantages of digital impressions with the established reliability of traditional methods is key to delivering exceptional dental care.

Ready to elevate your dental practice with cutting-edge technology? Get started with PRO-Craft today and experience the artistry of dental craftsmanship.

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