Who would have imagined it possible to have quality dental restorations and appliances made without using any impression material at all? Less than 10 years ago, time-consuming, messy impressions that provoked gagging in many patients were the norm. Tremendous improvements in intraoral scanning technology have revolutionized restorative dentistry for the better and brought the ability to offer impression-free alternatives to the masses. Now, virtual 3D surface models of the hard and soft tissues are the result of the optical impressions, allowing them to be transferred electronically through time and space to the dental laboratory.
What Is an Intraoral Scanner?
In practical terms, chairside intraoral scanners allow the dentist to completely bypass the unpleasant and time-consuming process of taking physical impressions by capturing images of the patient’s anatomy. Those images are then used to construct virtual 3D models.
Similar to 3D scanners used in other industries, dental 3D scanners project a light source (either laser or structured light) onto intraoral tissues and the dental arches, including any prepared teeth and implant scan bodies (cylinders screwed onto implants that allow the implant position to be detected by the scanner). Those images are captured by imaging sensors which use specialized software to process and generate the data into point clouds. These point clouds are then mathematically triangulated using specialized software to create a final 3D representation of the images, replicating the patient’s anatomy to extremely precise specifications.
Intraoral scanning eliminates the inherent inaccuracies of traditional reverse-image laboratory methods that get carried through to the final restoration, often resulting in restorations that do not fit properly.
Qualities of the Best Intraoral Scanners
Choosing and purchasing an intraoral scanner is the first step toward the transition to digital dentistry. Intraoral scanners must possess certain properties for them to be beneficial. The key is to balance the critical features that you will use without buying something that is too complicated for the needs of your practice.
Ease of Use
The size and quality of the scanning equipment itself are important. Is it easy to control the wand in your hand using a comfortable grip? Is the scanning wand too heavy or too bulky? Can you access all areas of the patient’s mouth? Does the scanner’s infection control regimen work well without degrading accuracy? The best intraoral scanners allow you to fully use them with ease.
Intuitive Operating System
User-friendly software is essential. Clinicians don’t have time to deal with complex software that consumes excess time and prevents them from performing dentistry.
The accuracy of the scan determines the fit of the final restoration. The scanner must be able to precisely capture all of the fine details for every type of restoration that you will be performing including crowns, bridges, dentures, partial dentures, implant-supported dentures, night guards, and orthodontic aligners.
The best intraoral scanners balance scanning speed with accuracy and have minimal to no delay between the completion of the scan and loading the images onto your monitor for viewing. The software should also recognize any areas where additional scanning is needed to improve precision.
Scanners are available at a variety of price points. The best intraoral scanner for your practice is the one that gives you the biggest bang for your buck when combined with all of the other important elements outlined above. Consider any hidden costs and additional expenses associated with using a chairside scanner, such as additional equipment, software subscriptions, advanced training, maintenance packages, and support.
6 Best Intraoral Scanners
Any major equipment purchase requires careful consideration. After all, you don’t want to buy something that will be obsolete tomorrow or not meet your practice’s needs for the foreseeable future. With so many manufacturers to choose from, dentists want to know which brands are the best intraoral scanners for their investment. We’ve put together a list outlining intraoral scanner comparison 2022 to help you figure out some of the features that might be most important to you.