Making the Right Impression Why Going Digital is a Means to a Practice-Enhancing End

Author : Dental Product Shopper
Published Date 04/05/2012
Share this post

Making the Right Impression

Why Going Digital is a Means to a Practice-Enhancing End

The ?not your father?s?? assertion has been used to market everything from cars to weight-loss products. All too often, however, what?s touted as a ?revolutionary breakthrough? ends up being little more than a tweak that?s used to justify a higher price point.


While revolutionary might be too strong a word, digital impressions may actually have the potential to usher in a whole new era in the field of restorative dentistry. If you have any doubts, just ask some of the roughly 11,000 clinicians who have made the leap onto the digital bandwagon and, along with their patients, staff members, and practices as a whole, are already reaping the rewards.

Each of these clinicians may have a somewhat different story to share, but some common threads are likely to emerge. You?ll no doubt be told that digital impression systems eliminate inaccuracies that arise from the shrinkage of polyvinyl siloxanes coupled with die stone expansion. And you?ll certainly hear accounts of increased accuracy, better fit, and fewer remakes and adjustments?all of which lead to enhanced efficiency and patient satisfaction.

Chairside Restoration Gateway

The ability to take a digital impression and send it to the lab with the knowledge that patients will be getting a more accurate restoration that drops into place with minimal adjustments is, for many dentists, a more-thanworthy goal in and of itself. But delve a little deeper and you might find that digital impressions are a means to an end (rather than the ultimate goal) and provide the perfect way to dip their toes into the CAD/CAM waters. In fact, digital impressions are the ideal ?gateway? to chairside restorations, as evidenced by a large group practice that made 75% of their crowns in-house in 2010.

What these dentists are able to offer their patients are same-day, permanently bonded crowns that are much easier to seat than those placed after the usual 2-week wait, when a certain amount of shifting of adjacent and opposing teeth is likely to have occurred. (I remain convinced that nothing good happens while a temporary is in place.)

Crunching the Numbers

Despite all this promise, digital impression technology has been relatively slow to take off. This is in large part because of the initial investment, but also because of the click fee per use attempted with the first 2 systems on the market. In reality, however, these systems really can end up being cost savers in the long run. More accurate impressions mean lower remake rates. This translates to less chair time for adjustments, which, in turn, translates to more efficient patient flow. When taken to its logical conclusion, this chain of benefits would result in greater patient satisfaction, leading to enhanced patient retention and more word-of-mouth referrals.

These rewards notwithstanding, there?s one even more tangible and immediate monetary benefit not often considered: savings passed along from the lab to the clinician. Practicing in the largest dental lab in the country (Glidewell) has given me a unique and up-close perspective on this particular benefit and the restoration process as a whole. With our technicians working only 50 feet away, I became acutely aware of my own impression technique?and, in particular, my limitations?as well as the daily issues encountered in the lab. And as our technicians began to work with digital impressions, there was a gradual realization that we weren?t dealing with many of the time-consuming and frustrating issues associated with conventional impressions. Instead, having more accurate impressions allowed the lab to begin the digital design process immediately.

After some thought, we determined that what we were saving in terms of labor and materials could be passed along to our dentist-customers; for example, billing $79 for what had always been a $99 restoration? the type of savings that I believe will be a driving force behind increasing clinician involvement with CAD/CAM dentistry. As, slowly but surely, other labs come to the same realization, the cause-and-effect relationship between more accurate impressions and more economical restorations will undoubtedly provide more dentists with the motivation to take a new look at digital technology as both feasible and cost-effective.

Time Is Money

Of course, cost is not calculated in terms of dollars and cents alone. In a busy practice, no one would argue that time really is money. As with any new technology, the move to digital impressions is associated with a learning curve and a willingness to make some changes that may initially require some additional time. Without a doubt, loading a gun with impression material and then syringing it around the prep takes less time than taking a digital impression. This might be a bit more frustrating for veteran practitioners accustomed to doing things the same way for many years, if not decades. The key is to be patient and to keep your eye on the prize as you become more comfortable with the technology. To that end, the companies that offer digital impression systems provide excellent in-office training supplemented by online support, all of which should be more than sufficient to bring any clinician up to speed.

Choosing the Right System

If the idea of going digital is starting to sound intriguing, the next step would be to select a system that?s right for your particular practice. Because price points and learning curves tend to be similar, the criteria for choosing a system should be those related to your ultimate goals in making such an investment.

For example, if your ultimate goal is to offer patients permanent crowns produced in the office in under 2 hours, then choose a system with restoration capabilities. However, if that sounds a bit overwhelming, this doesn?t need to be an all-or-nothing endeavor. Another option is to make posterior restorations yourself, while still leaving anteriors to the experts in your lab by sending them a digital impression. Not all systems offer this capability so, regardless of how ambitious you are in this regard, the key is to purchase an expandable system that will enable chairside milling when and if you choose to pursue this as a part of your practice.

Ready, Get Set, Go!

Ready or not, this is where dentistry is heading, especially as digital methods increasingly define the success of individual practices. And as more dentists incorporate this technology into routine patient care, it has become clear that these really aren?t ?your father?s? impressions.

Michael DiTolla, DDS, FAGD, is Director of Clinical Education and Research at Glidewell Laboratories in Newport Beach, CA. A lecturer on digital restorative dentistry and owner of all the commercially available digital impression systems, Dr. DiTolla was named the ?Most Effective Dental Educator? in 2011 by Dr. for his efforts to help dentists reduce their remake rates.