Digital dentures in dentistry

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digital dentures
Photography: Kitaec/123RF

With digital dentures becoming more and more advanced, they are a smart and profitable service line for dentists to offer to patients. By Cameron Cooper

With the rise of popular dental treatments such as implants, veneers and gum contouring, the humble denture has often disappeared under the radar in recent years.

Digital dentures are changing that reality, however, as they become a growing topic of interest and discussion in dentistry. Increasingly, dentists realise that a combination of digital imaging, sophisticated design software and 3D printing can produce dental prostheses that deliver healthy profits for dental practices and satisfaction for patients.

Leif Svensson, clinical director of Affordable Dentures & Implants strongly endorses digital dental technology and believes it can save fabrication time, improve quality and enhance smile aesthetics. Praising the accuracy and speed of such technology, he observes that most dentists are time-poor and cost conscious. 

“So, if you can make the job easier and faster and cheaper, they will adopt it and adapt to it quite quickly,” he says.

Svensson is walking the talk when it comes to digital dentistry. In addition to Affordable Dentures & Implants, which focuses on tooth-replacement solutions such as bridges, implants and dentures, he runs Sparx Lab, a 40-technician dental laboratory that offers quality dental restorations, and Anatomic 4D, an R&D outfit that creates and tests prototypes of new dental products. The latter’s flagship product is Tektonic, a full-arch implant solution.

Svensson is convinced that digital technology is the way to go. “Digital is completely world-changing,” he says.

Lucrative market

A new study called the Global Dentures Market Report 2022 predicts that the global dentures market will grow to US$3.32 billion in 2026 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.1 per cent.

The reports suggests that the prevalence of periodontal and edentulism diseases will drive the dentures market, adding that the “introduction of advanced technical equipment is a key trend gaining popularity”. The authors point to the development of 3D-printed digital dentures equipment and computer-aided designing (CAD) that is revolutionising the production of removable full-arch dentures.

You can just go straight to a finish if you have the scanning skill, and that represents a huge differential in time for dentists.

Leif Svensson, clinical director, Affordable Dentures & Implants

Such advances clearly point to dentures being a valid and attractive option for dentists and their patients. The focus now is on the best way of using this technology and changing workflows for the manufacture of dentures.

Denture workflows

One of the problems with making dentures in the past was that it required a longwinded, multi-stage process, but new digital-inspired workflows are streamlining the process.

Traditionally, the fabrication of dentures relies on the skills of an individual technician, whereas with the right software, digital technology can customise the manufacture of cost-effective 3D-printed dentures within a reduced duration of treatment.

A typical workflow includes the following key steps:

The impression

For digital dentures, a clinician needs a 3D representation of the mouth as is. This is done by scanning or taking an analogue impression. Intraoral scanning can replace the need for patients to sit at length with an uncomfortable impression tray in their mouth.

Svensson says the traditional process involves up to five appointments, whereas skillful use of scanners can cut this requirement to just two visits and eliminate the ‘bite’ and ‘try-in’ appointments. “You can just go straight to a finish if you have the scanning skill, and that represents a huge differential in time for dentists.”

He adds that offering such scanning technology can be a real differentiator for a practice.

“The dentist down the road may not be doing such scanning and he’ll pull out a bucket of alginate and stick it in the patient’s mouth and they’ll have a poor experience. So, you can use that better digital experience to promote your business.”

The design

During this phase, the dental technician loads files into prosthetics software, which enables the creation of personalised prostheses with a perfect fit. The software can help automate much of the design process and eliminate the need for analogue re-sets.

The dentist down the road may not be doing such scanning and he’ll pull out a bucket of alginate and stick it in the patient’s mouth and they’ll have a poor experience. So, you can use that better digital experience to promote your business.

Leif Svensson, clinical director, Affordable Dentures & Implants 

When the partial or full denture design is ready, production can be managed by milling or 3D printing of the dentures, or by using a combination of the two techniques. In this design part of the workflow, corrections that might previously have taken hours can potentially be done in minutes.

Svensson has done about 3500 denture scans and is convinced that it is a more efficient fitting process than traditional means which have “so many points of failure” through the mixing of alginate, temperature changes, shrinkage and issues when pouring stone models.

“I can safely say that the remake rates have dropped hugely with digital dentures,” Svensson says.

The characterisation

This step involves making the prostheses look and feel more lifelike by matching the patient’s natural features with composites. While early iterations of printed denture bases were criticised for lacking in characterisation, the latest digital technology has come ahead in leaps and bounds in this respect.

The final touches

Once the digital dentures are made, they undergo a polishing stage to minimise any roughness on the outer surfaces and to help hygiene outcomes for patients. In addition to some of the other advantages of digital dentures, they can easily be duplicated if they are lost or damaged. 

As intraoral scanning and 3D printing continues to evolve and improve, Svensson believes digital versions will become the denture of choice for dentists and their patients.

He also thinks it can be a highly profitable area of dental dentistry for those who acquire the requisite skills, with the average hourly rate for dental prosthetists being well above that of a general practitioner dentist.

“So, it can be an extremely lucrative sub-section of the dental industry and one that is going from strength to strength,” Svensson says.  

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