Digital Innovations for Better Dentistry

Patients may not be aware of the remarkable advances available to dentists that can improve outcomes and the patient experience. Some are readily visible to patients when they interact with them in the chair. Others are behind the scenes in the office. This provides an overview of a couple innovations that are having a big impact in our office.

Traditionally, to make dental impressions, the models used for molding dental crowns, inlays and other tooth restorations, a dentist or dental assistant would go through the time-consuming process of taking an impression. This was done by selecting a tray that fits your mouth, mixing up a fresh batch of gooey molding material, inserting it into your mouth carefully to keep you from gagging, waiting patiently while it firmed up, making sure you could still breathe, and carefully removing it without pulling out other crowns with it. The mold then needed to be disinfected, packed and shipped to a dental lab.

Now we make impressions with the 3m True Definition Scanner (as shown above). A wand about the size of an electric toothbrush glides comfortably over your teeth, capturing continuous 3D video images and actually modeling them in real time. In a matter of minutes, I can view, rotate or enlarge a on a touch screen a very precise 3D digital image of your teeth in fine detail. This allows us to more accurately assess the preparation and precise dimensions before sending the digital prescription to the lab that will create the restoration. Instead of the time and expense of packing and shipping a model, the digital images are immediately transmitted the lab via email.

In the lab, the digital images feed a remarkable process called stereo lithography, which uses software and lasers to build a 3-dimensional model from the digital file. After the model is finished, a final restoration is created from it and sent back to our office for placement. The result is a higher quality, more precise fitting restoration that fits better, bites better and looks better than any restorations ever made before.

You have probably heard of 3D printers that can make objects by printing layers of resin to form a precise shaped solid form. But you probably don’t know about the applications of this technology that are available for dentists to use right in our offices.

Specifically designed desktop 3D printers use biocompatible resin to create long-term dental appliances with high resistance to fracture and wear. This clear high-precision, high-accuracy resin is cured with UV light to a hard state and polished to high optical transparency for beautiful final products. The dental 3D printers are now used in our office to create night guards and retainers, surgical guides for dental implants, as well as crown and bridge models, orthodontic and diagnostic models.

We have a 3D printer that enables us to create these critical dental devices right in our office, saving our patients considerable time and inconvenience, since they don’t have to wait days and make a return trip to the office as they did when such devices are made in a dental lab. In the near future the 3D printer will be able to make high-quality clear plastic aligners for straightening teeth, and eventually complete dentures.

DR. ADAM BIRK is owner of Westport Dental, located in the 77 Building in Westport Plaza. Dr. Birk employs these and many other advanced technologies to enable more accurate, safe, long-lasting and aesthetically pleasing dental solutions, while assuring patient comfort. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Birk, you can call his office at 314-434-7300, or visit their website at