Digital Model Accuracy and “Open” Scanning Systems

We want to save everyone both money and frustration on end of the year purchases. The manufacturers are out in full force with the end of the year push on scanners to send digital files to the labs. We continue to get calls almost every day for advice. First, understand digital scanning represents only a VERY small percentage of the work out there. Less than 5%. So please don’t feel like you’re the only doctor left still using impression material. We HAD several using scanning systems just a couple years ago but almost all have gone back to traditional techniques and materials.

Our recommendation continues to be to wait on any of the digital scanning systems. Trust us on this, when something is working we will tell you and support it. We have heard first hand from doctors who made the purchase with each of the major systems and NONE are delivering as promised. The problem continues to be the model printing technology even more so than the scanner. The lab must have a model for the case and that technology is still lagging several years behind the progress of the scanning and milling. Printed models will eventually become practical, but it is not here yet for sure. In the mean time, here are a few questions to ask your sales rep in case they “forget” to mention it the next time they are trying to sell you one of these systems. These systems are all really closed. They like to claim they are “open” but that is only to labs in their network. Ask about the cost of the system after the final payment is made. The licensing and service agreement are almost the same cost as the monthly payment has been. Ask about the models and the data transfer process. There is a data transfer fee, then a fee for someone to digitally “build” the model, a fee to digitally trim and mark the die, a fee to print the model, and another extra fee for each individual die, and a fee for shipping. Depending on the system it can run over $50 for a single model and die. The technology for printing of models is also still lagging in accuracy. By their own admission, the models are barely in the 60 micron range in accuracy. This will all continue to evolve and improve rapidly. We evaluate models throughout the year; every time a new system or technology is developed.

The accuracy of the model work is critical and the foundation on which everything we do, so it is essential that the standard of digital printed models be equal to or better than what we can do by hand. Any less, and we lower the standards and quality of the work before we even begin. I hope you can appreciate our concern over this critical aspect of the dental delivery system and the implications for doctor, lab, and most of all patient.

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