Interview: The dental industry is moving closer to a complete digital workflow
Digital dentistry is an upcoming industry that has undergone rapid development in recent years. Intra-oral scanning, CAD/CAM and 3-D printing have fundamentally changed the workflow of dentists and dental technicians and have improved many dental procedures. Dental Tribune Online had the opportunity to discuss this topic with Avi Cohen, Director of Global Dental for 3-D printing manufacturer Stratasys.
Dental Tribune Online: Mr Cohen, what are the advantages of using 3-D printers and digital dentistry technologies in a dental practice or laboratory, and why is digital dentistry becoming increasingly important for dental professionals?
Avi Cohen: The dental industry is by its very nature fast paced and requires rapid turnaround. When patient care is directly affected by a technology, technicians will always look for innovations that can reduce time while improving quality and precision.
Dental technicians traditionally rely on steady hands and expert eyes to prepare crowns, bridges, frameworks, etc. The manual process is time-consuming and imprecise and requires materials that do not typically provide the best durability or aesthetic appearance. With a 3-D printer doing the hard work, dental laboratories eliminate the bottleneck of manual modelling. By combining oral scanning, CAD/CAM and 3-D printing, they can accurately and rapidly produce crowns, bridges, stone models and a range of orthodontic appliances.
Forward-thinking dental and orthodontic laboratories are continually seeking to improve their processes, reduce lengthy milling time and stay ahead of the competition. Using Stratasys’s PolyJet 3-D printing technology, featured in our Dental Series 3-D printers, laboratories can print in superfine 16 µ layers, dramatically increasing precision and reducing production time in comparison with traditional dental mould-making. This avoids the need for patients to return to dental laboratories for corrective procedures, saving dentists both time and money and having a direct and positive impact on patient care.
With the cost of laboratory work becoming a major factor in dental restoration planning and therapy, we are seeing an increase in the adoption of digital dentistry by dental laboratories. This enables them to improve efficiency and provide a higher level of patient care.
For many dental professionals, this evolution has been a long-awaited and welcome transition to a faster and labour-saving process that improves quality and precision while keeping businesses competitive.
How have dentists responded to the trend of digital dentistry? Do you think that the majority of practices and laboratories are already using or considering using digital technologies such as 3-D printing?
With any new technology, there is always the need to educate and it is the same in dentistry. It could be argued that many dentists hold traditional plaster moulds in high regard, but now there are alternatives. I believe that an increasing number of dentists, as well as newcomers entering the industry, will adopt newly available technologies that improve productivity, one of them being a move to digital dentistry.
With an increased range of superior intra-oral scanners and associated software now available on the market, more and more dental laboratories of all sizes are exploring and installing the level of 3-D printing technology that suits their company’s size and budget.
Most notably this year, we have seen an explosion of devices dedicated to digital imaging, impression taking and CAD/CAM fabrication of restorations—both chairside and in the laboratory. With the rollout of new 3-D printing systems, materials and capabilities over the coming year, many believe that more dentists will begin to view the technology as a viable alternative for their practices.
We might look back at this year as the moment that dental laboratories passed the point of no return from a traditional manual workflow towards an all-digital design and manufacturing process. In many respects, digital dentistry is already here, with a growing number of laboratory owners incorporating it in some form into their strategic business models.
What innovations in the field of digital dentistry is Stratasys presenting at this year’s IDS?
We are using IDS to exhibit new systems and materials. At this event, we are presenting something the market has never seen before: a breakthrough and the future. For centuries, impressions formed the basis for crowns and bridges. Everything was made by hand. Then intra-oral scanners were invented, allowing for digital impressions and, finally, the printing of models. With Stratasys’s new systems and materials, models can be printed in full colour and in different textures, thus creating an exact copy of the patient’s mouth—the colour of the teeth and the gingivae perfectly attuned to the original. There are 900 different colours and textures from which to select. This brings realism to the market. Now, there is no longer a need for stone models. We are no longer in the “Stone Age”; we have arrived in reality.
In addition, our 3-D-printed models have a clear jaw to visualise the exact position of nerves, and this helps dentists to prepare for the placement of implants. Moreover, with our 3-D printing solutions, it is possible for the first time to print gingival masks to see how and where to place an implant—this has been done entirely by hand until now.
We invite IDS attendees to visit Stratasys at Booth D040/E041 in Hall 3.2.
What kinds of dental solutions does Stratasys offer for different indications and customers?
As a leading provider of digital dentistry, we offer a wide range of 3-D-printed dental solutions, including surgical guides produced in a clear biocompatible material—the ideal solution for implant placement. We also provide stone models for dental laboratories, thereby offering an extremely accurate replacement of plaster modelling and a range of orthodontic models for various applications.
As the industry moves closer to a complete digital workflow, dentists can now focus on more strategic tasks, while their 3-D printer accelerates the development of dental solutions, such as crowns, bridges, inlays, veneers and frameworks.
What in general makes your products stand out from the rest?
With our Dental Series, dedicated to addressing the needs of dentists and orthodontic laboratories, we offer a full range of dental solutions, making us a key participant in digital dentistry. For example, our Objet Eden260VS Dental Advantage 3-D printer is engineered to meet the demanding production needs of mid-sized dental laboratories and medium to large orthodontic laboratories and provides new additional capabilities for improved productivity.
With labour costs as the main expense for dental and orthodontic laboratories, the Objet Eden260VS Dental Advantage addresses this through a greater level of automation. Printing is done at the click of a button and, owing to the water-soluble support mode, cleaning of models is an automated process. A single laboratory technician can design, print and have all models cleaned automatically with no post-processing required. The reduced cost per model has a knock-on effect on the labour cost.
In addition to our Dental Series 3-D printers, we offer a range of advanced dental materials, including the biocompatible VeroGlaze. This material is ideal for applications requiring mucous membrane contact for up to 24 hours, enabling dental laboratories to use VeroGlaze to create veneer try-ins in precise A2 tooth shading. Soluble support technology allows the easy cleaning of dental parts with fine features, such as small removable die inserts in dental models.
What do you think the future of 3-D printing is, and how will it change our way of thinking, designing and working—both in dentistry and in general?
3-D printing already offers an affordable and attractive option. I believe that the practice of placing impression material in a patient’s mouth to take impressions will continue to decline as the popularity of 3-D printing increases. With 3-D printing, all you need is an intra-oral scanner to capture a digital scan of the patient’s dentition. This allows dental laboratories to 3-D print the mould in a matter of hours, saving time and improving accuracy while crucially enhancing patient care.
This technology has already been proven as an ideal solution to various dental production challenges, as dental laboratory owners save costs and move quickly into the digital world. As we develop the technology further, it will become faster and more economical. Stratasys 3-D printing systems are at the heart of digital dentistry and being improved daily with the aim of addressing future challenges.
I believe that in the future we will have materials that can be kept in the mouth for longer periods and that we will see a move towards 3-D printing of end-use dental parts. The day is not far off when anything—a crown, a bridge or a denture—can be printed right in the dentist’s practice, easily accessible for everyone and at a low cost.