By Donald Erickson, DDS
With the introduction of technologies such as intraoral cameras, high-speed handpieces, and early CAD/CAM systems, dentists have become accustomed to facing high initial costs to adopt technologies and equipment that, while valuable to the practice, require considerable foresight to justify the hefty investment. Digital impression systems have been no different. While they certainly bring improved productivity, better oral care, and ultimately a better patient experience, these systems often come with a price tag that is simply not feasible for many dental practices.
Considering the investment
The cost of most digital impression systems requires dentists to make careful calculations about their potential return on investment. How much impression material does the practice go through in a normal month? What is the retake rate for impressions? How frequently are remakes required for crowns or bridges, and how much time is being spent on adjustments for these restorations? Some dentists eventually conclude that it makes sense to invest in digital impression taking for superior accuracy, improved patient comfort, and reduction in retakes and remakes — but many are still hesitant to take the leap.
I believe that the latest news from 3M ESPE is going to bring many more dentists into CAD/CAM dentistry. An advanced digital impression system is being introduced at an unprecedented price of $11,995 (suggested retail price) - unparalleled in the CAD/CAM dentistry market.
Clinicians have waited for the inevitable cost of capital equipment to fall in this category for decades but the costs have only increased. 3M's new model for this technology is similar to that for smartphones and accompanying data plans. A consumer purchases a smartphone with a commitment to purchase data services from the phone provider. Now, with an open, secure, cloud-based platform, clinicians can feel confident that the data generated from the system has a multitude of clinical applications … and that platform will support future advances from a company they believe will deliver rapid advances in technology.
When dentists purchase the 3M True Definition Scanner, they also choose a data plan for ongoing use of the system. These plans start at $199 a month and include free software updates, unlimited digital model storage and unlimited crown and bridge restorations. This allows dentists to more accurately project their costs for the system. So, not only does this technology present a new
way to think about impression-taking, but also a new way to think about the affordability of impression-taking technology and participation in CAD/CAM dentistry.
I took the leap in adopting digital impression technology when I purchased the 3M™ ESPE™ CAD/CAM system in 2008. In the past four years, I have seated more than 400 units without a single remake or impression retake. I have seen firsthand that the digital workflow is more controlled and consistent. Patients are amazed with this technology.
Reliably accurate results
We know that traditional impression materials can accurately capture impressions. But we also know that we may have distortion in the tray and never know it, or bubbles at the margins, tears in critical areas, and problems with the stone phase.
With this new scanner, impressions are captured with powerful 3-D-in-motion video technology, which lets the dentist view the scan in outstanding detail as it is being captured. This level of accuracy contributes to improved productivity — another attractive money-saver compared to the traditional method.
Open platform, more choices
The open, secure, cloud-based platform gives dentists and labs more freedom in creating restorations. Connectivity with the E4D Mill has already been announced, and future connections with other mills and CAD/CAM systems are forthcoming. The system uses open STL files, giving dentists excellent flexibility in choosing the best restorative solution for their desired clinical outcome.
In addition to the system’s flexibility, the scanner has a small, comfortable scanning wand that functions much like a handpiece. This wand integrates smoothly into the procedure and allows the dentist to scan comfortably from a seated position. Using the scanner really does add an element of fun to treatment and dramatically improves patient comfort.
A tool for everyday practices
With the introduction of technologies such as intraoral cameras and early CAD/CAM systems, dentists became accustomed to high prices right out of the gate. These technologies were promising and had great potential for added profitability, but some dentists had a tough time justifying the cost. With this new model for digital impression taking, there is no such trouble. A price tag under $12,000 makes this system very reasonable for the average dental practice — not just high-tech practices. Now dentists have an extremely practical and easy-to-budget-for model to enter the world of digital impression taking.
Donald Erickson, DDS, graduated from the University of Minnesota and completed the Continuum at the Pankey Institute for Advanced Dental Education. He teaches at the University of Minnesota Dental School and consults for 3M ESPE Dental. Dr. Erickson is in private practice in St. Paul, Minn., and you may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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