So, you want to purchase
an intraoral scanner . . .
Steven Pigliacelli, MDT, CDT
CONVERTING TO DIGITAL IMPRESSIONS can be scary. When you look at the
marketplace, there are a lot of decisions to make, and there can be so many
questions that it becomes overwhelming. Let’s take a deep breath, calm down, and
look at the options.
Before committing to digital impressions, you should
first ask yourself this question: Do you want to design and
mill restorations in-house, or do you still want to partner
with a laboratory?
If you’re thinking you want to bring things in-house, ask
yourself this question: Are you prepared to set aside your
time or your chairside assistant’s time to oversee the fabrication of indirect restorations?
In answering these questions, it’s important to realize
that you’ll need to invest in additional equipment and
training in order to bring work into your practice and
maintain quality. But you don’t have to do it all at once.
Personally, I recommend buying the intraoral scanner first.
The learning curve can be six months. This way you can
still work with a lab and focus your energy on mastering
the scanning techniques and workflow.
Next, let’s get familiar with the equipment, including what
types of digital files different machines can generate and
work with. Perhaps you’ve heard the term “STL,” which
stands for “stereolithography.” It also refers to an “.stl” file
format, which is similar to the “.doc” extension of a Microsoft
Word file or the “.pdf” extension for an Adobe Acrobat file.
STL is the most common file format used to record digital
impression data. In essence, STL is the universal language
that allows digital data transfer data between systems.
Although STL is the most common format for digital
impression files, it’s not the only one. That’s an important
point, because not every scanner file is compatible with
every milling unit. Hence, you hear terms such as “closed
architecture” and “open architecture.” Let’s go into these
terms more in depth.
CLOSED VERSUS OPEN ARCHITECTURE
Closed architecture is where the scanner, software, and all
peripheral machinery can work together—and only together—very much like how Mac computers worked for
years. Back then, only Mac accessories were compatible
with Mac computers. Similarly, digital impression systems
using closed architecture integrate very well together, but
not well or not at all with other manufacturers.
Systems such as CEREC (Dentsply Sirona) and NobelProcera (Nobel Biocare) are good examples of systems
using closed architecture. CEREC is the pioneer of the
intraoral scanner. The company’s engineers spent years
upgrading and improving CEREC devices to get better
scans. The integration of the scanner, software, and milling
machines available for CEREC-authorized labs and CEREC
dentists is seamless, simply because everything is designed
and manufactured from a single source. In the case of
NobelProcera, this is a lab scanner that sends the design
file directly to Nobel Biocare’s manufacturing plant in
Mahwah, New Jersey. This keeps everything on a consistent
production and quality level.
Unlike closed systems, devices that use open architecture allow the scanner, computer, and other components
to be bought separately—just like old component stereo
systems from the 1970s. The benchtop scanners from
3Shape and Dental Wings that many labs have enable them
to service open architecture devices. They allow the lab
technician to scan a model and design any restoration that
the software allows.