Guide to dental diagnostics for accurate treatment planning

Guide to dental diagnostics for accurate treatment planning image

Diagnostic wax-ups/designs, diagnostic radiological guides, and dental study models are three critical tools dentists need to achieve accurate dental diagnostics and precise treatment plans.  

Dental diagnostics help dentists identify issues, design treatment plans, and communicate with patients. Used effectively, they can increase dentist and patient confidence and contribute to better restoration, cosmetic, and orthodontic treatment outcomes. 

Here are three critical tools used in dental diagnostics, and how you can get the best out of them:

1. Diagnostic wax-ups/designs 

Diagnostic wax-ups/designs are the cornerstone of precise and accurate treatment planning. They are essentially a three-dimensional model of the patient’s teeth and are typically sculpted and shaped to display the potential results of the treatment plan. 

Wax-ups are a frequently used tool in dental diagnostics to help dentists design restorations and cosmetic treatments, and effectively communicate the potential outcomes of proposed treatments to patients. 

How are diagnostic wax-ups/designs used?

Dentists typically use diagnostic wax-ups as a visual representation to show patients the planned changes in their teeth’s size, shape, and alignment. They can be a powerful communication tool that gives patients a physical, tangible model of how their proposed restoration or cosmetic treatment will look on completion.  

Diagnostic designs are also essential for comprehensive treatment planning. Dentists often use them to design and review treatment options and determine the most suitable approach for the patient’s existing dentition. This includes anticipating challenges, planning the sequence of procedures, and estimating the cost.

In some cases, diagnostic designs may be used as a temporary in-place mock-up that is placed in the patient’s mouth to provide an accurate preview of the potential treatment outcomes. This approach often increases patient confidence in the proposed treatment plan and provides an opportunity for close patient involvement in the customisation process.   

Dental lab technicians also use diagnostic designs as a guide for crown, bridge, and veneers design and fabrication. Accurate, high-quality wax-ups/designs give technicians precise specifications for the size, shape, and contour of the final restorations, which ensures a high degree of accuracy and consistency. 

Finally, dentists may use diagnostic preview to review the final treatment outcomes by comparing the aesthetic and functional performance of the completed restoration to the design.

How are diagnostic wax-ups/designs made?

Avant Dental uses a multi-step process to manufacture precise diagnostic wax-ups with high attention to detail. Following the taking of intraoral scans or manual impression taking, Avant technicians create a dental stone or plaster model and accurately scan an impression of the patient’s existing dentition to create a digital file.

Dental wax was typically heated and strategically applied to the stone model to simulate the proposed changes in teeth size, shape, and position, but these days we have progressed to digital designs using high-tech three-dimensional simulations to create perfect results.

The dentist then evaluates the completed diagnostic designs, and any necessary adjustments or modifications are made. Finally, the approved design is presented to the patient and used to visually demonstrate the proposed treatment plan. 

What are the benefits of diagnostic designs for the dentist and patient? 

Three-dimensional physical visualisation – for dentists and patients – is the key benefit of using diagnostic designs. They improve communication and invite patients to take a more active role in the customisation process. 

This gives patients more accurate expectations for the final results of their treatment and provides a greater sense of participation and control over their treatment. These factors both contribute to achieving higher patient satisfaction rates.  

For dentists, diagnostic previews help create more comprehensive treatment plans with more predictable outcomes and less chance of unexpected complications. They also provide an excellent way to compare the completed treatment to the treatment goals as represented in the digital design. 

2. Diagnostic radiological guide

Also known as a radiographic guide or a radiographic template, a diagnostic radiological guide is another key component of dental diagnostics. It is usually a transparent or semi-transparent template that is placed into the patient’s mouth to guide the positioning of an X-ray for more accurate imaging.  

Diagnostic radiological guides are typically custom-made for each patient, and designed to align with the patient’s teeth. It may be held in place by the force of the patient’s bite, or in some cases secured with dental clamps or even adhesive material.

How are diagnostic radiological guides used?

A diagnostic radiological guide essentially provides a precise reference point in the patient’s mouth to correctly align the X-ray equipment with the targeted teeth or area of interest in the jaw bone. 

Once the dental nurse or dentist has snugly placed the pre-made radiological guide into the patient’s mouth, the X-ray equipment is aligned with the guide to ensure the correct angulation and distance.  

The dentist or dental assistant then confirms the correct positioning and takes the X-ray. The diagnostic radiological guide helps to ensure precise standardisation for accurate diagnosis and treatment planning.     

How are diagnostic radiological guides made?

The dentist begins with a comprehensive examination to identify potential teeth or areas of the jaw bone that may require radiological investigation to assist in diagnosis or determine the suitability of treatment options.  

Intraoral scans or physical impressions are then taken and sent to the lab for model fabrication. Avant’s dental technicians use the scans or impressions to create a digital file of the patient’s existing dentition, which serves as the foundation of the radiological guide.

Avant’s technicians then consider the particular areas of interest for the radiological investigation and determine the optimal positioning and angulation for obtaining the appropriate radiographic images.

A material for the guide is selected – usually a transparent or semi-transparent acrylic resin or radiolucent polymer that allows X-rays to pass through – and sculpted to fit the patient’s dental arches and shaped to align with the targeted teeth or areas of interest. 

CAD/CAM technology is often used in this step to ensure precise accuracy, and rough edges are smoothed to maximise patient comfort. 

What are the benefits of diagnostic radiological guides for the dentist and patient? 

The principal benefit of diagnostic radiological guides are improved accuracy and consistency of dental imaging including X-rays. This contributes to more effective and efficient diagnosis and treatment planning. It also helps the lab achieve precise restoration design and manufacture.

In addition to enhanced accuracy, diagnostic radiological guides tend to reduce radiation exposure for the patient and save time for the dentist with faster X-ray set-up and less need for retakes. 

3. Dental study model

A dental study model is essentially a diagnostic digital design or a cast of a dental impression. A dental study model is used in dental diagnostics to assess the patient’s existing dentition and surrounding oral structures to find a final prognosis and treatment plan.

How are dental study models used?

Dentists typically use dental study models to assess tooth alignment, occlusion, and arch form to identify dental conditions such as malocclusions, crowding, spacing, and tooth wear. Examining a physical three-dimensional model of the patient’s existing dentition can also be useful for complex cases, or cases that may require the diagnosis of multiple issues. 

Dental study models are also generally used in the early stages of treatment planning. This might include assessing the need for extractions, planning tooth movements, and designing dental prostheses. 

They may also be used to assist patient education and improve treatment acceptance. Dentists typically use dental study models as a visual guide to show the patient physical evidence of the diagnosis and explain how the treatment options will resolve the issue. This helps to increase the patient’s confidence in the diagnosis and the proposed treatment. 

Dental study models are also commonly used for dental training and research. Dentists may use them to practice new techniques and test new dental materials. 

How are dental study models made?

Dental study models typically follow the same design and fabrication steps as diagnostic wax-ups. That is, intraoral scans or physical impressions are taken and sent to the lab. From there, Avant’s technicians use the scans or impressions to make a digital file that precisely replicates the patient’s existing dentition.  

Dental stone or plaster models are then scanned and 3D printed, which creates a solid, stable, and durable model. Once fully set or cured, Avant’s technicians carefully trim away any excess material and polish out any rough surfaces or imperfections.

If required, dental study models may be articulated to recreate the patient’s jaw movement and occlusion. This can be particularly helpful when investigating tooth alignment, occlusion, and other jaw issues.   

What are the benefits of dental study models for the dentist and patient? 

Dental study models are an important aspect of dental diagnostics. They can be a helpful diagnostic aid for identifying and assessing malocclusions, crowding, spacing, tooth wear, and other abnormalities.

They also provide a solid foundation for developing restoration, cosmetic and orthodontic treatment plans, and are often used as a visual guide to help patients understand and accept the extent of diagnosed issues and proposed treatment plans. 

Dental study models are also a convenient and cost-effective way for dentists and dental staff to learn and practise new techniques. 


Avant Dental designs and manufactures precise diagnostic wax-ups. To find out more about working with us, please email or phone 1800 287 336.

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