The Ultimate Dentist’s Guide to Digital Dentures

The Ultimate Dentist’s Guide to Digital Dentures image

Digital dentures use advanced scanning and design technologies to streamline workflows and create better-fitting prosthetics that closely match the patient’s oral anatomy.

Digital dentures utilise the latest digital tools and technologies in the design and manufacturing process to achieve high precision and accuracy. The technology allows for the fine-tuning of details to enhance comfort, fit, and aesthetics. The end result is a custom-made denture that closely matches the patient’s oral anatomy.

While designing and manufacturing traditional dentures involve a series of manual steps – including taking physical impressions and creating moulds – digital dentures streamline this process through the use of digital tools and techniques such as intraoral scanners, and computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) technologies.

In addition to improving precision and accuracy, digital dentures offer several advantages over traditional methods. They can reduce the number of appointments needed, lead to better-fitting and more comfortable dentures, and make it easier to reproduce or modify dentures in the future for stored patient data.

Digital dentures can be used in most situations where traditional dentures are indicated. For example, digital dentures are commonly used for the fabrication of complete dentures and removable partial dentures

Digital dentures can also be used in conjunction with dental implants. Implant-supported dentures provide increased stability and support by attaching to dental implants anchored in the jawbone. They can also be particularly beneficial for unique or complex oral conditions where the ability to digitally design and customise dentures is critical to meet specific patient needs.   

And, as digital patient data can be stored electronically, digital dentures are often easier for dental professionals to reproduce or modify in the future.

Digital dentures typically begin with a digital scan of the patient’s oral structures. This can be done using intraoral scanners that create a precise 3D model of the patient’s mouth. The digital scan is then used to create a virtual 3D model of the denture, and CAD software enables dental professionals to specify the shape, size, and arrangement of the prosthetic teeth during the design stage. 

Before physical manufacturing begins, the patient and the dentist can preview the digital design, and make adjustments if necessary. This is known as a  ‘virtual try-in’, and it ensures that the denture meets the patient’s expectations and provides a good fit.

Once the design is finalised, the digital data is sent to your dental lab’s CAM system which likely uses technologies like 3D printing or computer numerical control (CNC) milling to produce the physical denture from appropriate materials.

5-step workflow for digital dentures

Step 1: Take intraoral scans

Accurate intraoral scans are the foundation of precise digital dentures. The teeth need to be dry for optimal scanning, so use air or a gentle stream of air from a dental syringe to dry the teeth. Consider using lip and cheek retractors to provide better access to the oral structures and improve visibility during scanning, and isolate with cotton rolls or isolation devices to control saliva and moisture.

Ensure that the intraoral scanner is calibrated correctly, then begin scanning in the area of interest. In digital denture cases, a full arch scan is often necessary. Follow the specific instructions provided by the manufacturer of your intraoral scanner. This may involve holding the scanner at a specific angle, maintaining a consistent speed, and covering all surfaces thoroughly.

Make sure the scanner captures not only the tooth or area of interest but also the adjacent teeth and surrounding gingival tissues. This is crucial for creating accurate digital models. Also, keep an eye on saliva levels during the scan. Use saliva ejectors or other methods to manage excess moisture without compromising the scan.

After completing the initial scan, review the digital model. If any areas are incomplete or if there are artefacts, consider rescanning. Once you’re satisfied with the scan, save the digital files according to the software’s instructions. These files will be used for further design and manufacturing processes.

Step 2: Fabrication of the occlusal rims, tooth selection and arrangement

Occlusal registration rims are an essential component in the fabrication of digital dentures. These bite rims help establish the vertical dimension, the orientation of the jaws, and the relationship between the upper and lower teeth. 

Avant’s expert technicians use the intraoral scans to create a virtual model of the patient’s oral anatomy using our CAD software. This includes the representation of the teeth, soft tissues, and other relevant structures. In the digital environment, our technicians virtually set the teeth using CAD tools and create a digital representation of the try-in traditionally used in the analog process.

At this point, dental professionals may also use CAD software to choose the appropriate prosthetic teeth and arrange them in the desired positions. The software allows for precise customisation based on the patient’s preferences and oral anatomy.

Step 3: Virtual try-in

Before physical manufacturing begins, a virtual try-in may be conducted. This allows the dental team to assess the digital design of the set up and make any necessary adjustments based on aesthetics and functionality.

Our CAD software previews how the denture will appear in the patient’s mouth, including the positioning of teeth, the shape of the denture base, and other aesthetic and functional aspects. At this point, dental professionals can make adjustments to the virtual denture, which may involve modifying the arrangement of teeth, refining the occlusal scheme, or addressing any issues related to fit and comfort.

Step 4: Manufacturing, post-processing and quality control

Once the digital design is finalised, the data is sent to our CAM system for manufacturing by our milling machines or 3D printers. After fabrication, the physical try-in or finish denture may undergo post-processing steps, including polishing and smoothing the surfaces, adjusting any sharp edges, and ensuring the denture meets the required specifications.

Quality control measures are then implemented to ensure that the finish denture matches the digital design accurately. This may involve visual inspection, measurements, and other assessments.

Step 5: Final try-in and adjustment

The fabricated dentures are tried in the patient’s mouth to assess fit, comfort, and function. Any necessary adjustments are made, either digitally or through traditional methods.

Throughout the process, communication between the dental professionals and the patient is essential, especially during the virtual try-in stage, to ensure that the patient’s preferences and expectations are considered. 

Digital dentures: Frequently asked questions

What are the key benefits of dental practices offering digital dentures

Digital dentures involve advanced digital scanning and design technologies, which leads to high precision and accuracy in the creation of dentures. This results in better-fitting prosthetics that closely match the patient’s oral anatomy.

The digital workflow also allows for a more streamlined and efficient process. Patients may benefit from fewer appointments, quicker turnaround times, enhanced communication through virtual try-ins, and a more positive overall experience.

Digital tools, such as virtual models and simulations, can be valuable for patient education. Dentists can use visual aids to explain treatment plans, demonstrate potential outcomes, and involve patients in the decision-making process.

On the practice side, digital dentistry allows for the electronic storage of patient data, which makes it easier to reproduce or modify dentures in the future. This can be particularly useful for adjustments, replacements, or in the case of lost or damaged dentures.

What are the common challenges faced by dentists when providing patients with digital dentures?

There are relatively few challenges associated with digital dentures. Transitioning from traditional to digital workflows can be challenging, especially for practices that have established manual processes, and you may need to purchase an intraoral scanner. 

Accurate scans are critical, so there can be an initial learning curve for dental professionals who have not previously mastered scanning. The efficiency of your workflow also depends largely on the dental lab you use, so be sure to choose a lab like Avant that prioritises real-time communication throughout each stage of the workflow. 

How do digital dentures differ from traditional dentures in terms of treatment techniques and considerations? 

Traditional dentures involve the use of physical impression materials to create moulds of the patient’s oral structures. Digital dentures use intraoral scanners to capture digital impressions, creating a 3D model of the oral cavity without the need for traditional impression materials.

The design of traditional dentures is often a manual, hands-on process by dental technicians who use physical moulds to create the prosthetic teeth arrangement, and physical try-ins involve the patient trying on a wax try-in of the denture to assess fit, aesthetics, and bite before the final denture is processed.

The traditional process may require multiple appointments and manual steps, leading to a longer turnaround time, and customisation is typically achieved through manual adjustments which can be less precise than digital alternatives. 

How can dentists optimise their workflows and schedules to accommodate digital dentures?

Optimising workflows and schedules to accommodate digital dentures involves strategic planning, efficient use of technology, and effective integration of digital processes into the dental practice. 

It’s critical to train dental professionals and support staff in the use of digital technologies to ensure that everyone is proficient in digital impression-taking and other relevant digital processes.

Clearly outline each step of the workflow to ensure consistency and efficiency in the treatment process. And, incorporating digital impressions into routine appointments can help to capture necessary data without requiring additional visits specifically for impression-taking.

You might also consider using virtual try-ins to involve patients in the design process without the need for physical appointments. This can save time and resources while ensuring patient satisfaction.

Avant Dental is a full-service dental laboratory. To find out more about working with us on digital dentures, please email contact@avantdental.com.au or phone 1800 287 336.

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