Thank goodness for the early adopters. We owe a great debt to the technologically inclined dentists who aren’t afraid to blaze new trails for the rest of us. Kudos to the key opinion leaders who safely test materials on their patients and report back to R&D departments on how to make things work better.
This praise should be doubled for the clinicians who helped develop digital impression technology. The big breakthrough can be attributed to a dentist, Dr. Werner Mörmann, and an electrical engineer, Dr. Marco Brandestini, who developed scanning and milling prototypes in the early 1980s.1 In 1983, the first “optical impression” was captured, and later Drs. Mörmann and Brandestini were also credited with fabricating the first chairside inlay in 1985 with a device called CEREC 1. It was still a proof of concept rather than a technology ready to be rolled into every dental practice, but some enterprising dentists did bring it into their offices. And they had the patience to keep scanning and not just reach for the polyvinyl siloxane impression material.
Today, about 36 years after that first digital impression was taken, several factors have helped make this a technology that can be brought into every dental practice. The industry has aided us by separating the scanning and CAD/CAM devices so that we may take advantage of the benefits of digital impressions without in-office milling, if we so choose. The quality and speed of the scans has increased dramatically, while the cost of the units has gone down. Many dental laboratories will decrease their fees if the restorations can be made without a model. We save some money on materials with digital impressions, but more importantly, many states allow us to delegate the scanning to a certified dental assistant, freeing us to treat patients elsewhere in the office. The benefits are now strongly outweighing the costs.
Digital impression technology was not an overnight sensation; this level of sophisticated technology rarely is. We are in the midst of a digital workflow revolution that was started decades ago, and we must realize that it will never end. The train has left the station, and now we need to decide when we want to get on. Thanks to the trailblazing dentists who came before us, digital impressions are ready for mass adoption.
Chris Salierno, DDS