Intraoral Scanners—Saving the Earth, One Impression at a Time

Conventional impressions in landfill graphicDoctors are always looking for ways to save—save teeth, save patients time, save money. What about saving the environment? Without even realizing it, dentistry has a huge impact in the Earth: plastic impression trays pile up in landfills, paper charting can use up to 10,000 pieces of paper a year. The overarching solution is to switch to digital solutions, e.g., digital scanning instead of using impression material, digital charting instead of paper files. Today, in honor of Earth Day, we’ll take closer look at one such digital solution that can decrease dentistry’s footprint on the environment—intraoral scanning.

Let’s compare some of the aspects of the traditional impression workflow with using an intraoral scanner and how each affects the environment:

 

Traditional Impression

Environmental Impact Digital Impression Environmental Impact

Plastic tray to take impression

Ends up in landfill; 450 years to break down Few consumables, no trays whatsoever

Minimal

Polyvinyl siloxane (PVS) impression

Ends up in landfill; never breaks down Impression is digital, no physical impression

None

Courier drives to practice to pick up impression

More cars on the road; carbon emissions Digital impression is sent via secure portal to lab

None

OR Impression is shipped to lab

Paper, cardboard or styrofoam packaging; fuel used by delivery truck or airplane

Digital impression is sent via secure portal to lab

None

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Taking Digital Impressions in an OMS Practice—Less Time, Happier Patients

As an oral surgeon, I do many procedures that require impressions—fabricating surgical guides, creating appliances to correct sleep apnea, etc. I’ve seen great results when using a digital scanner to take impressions in place of conventional impression materials. Not only is the process faster and more efficient, but I’ve noticed that my patients also prefer digital impressions to the potentially gag-inducing polyvinyl or alginate.

Let’s compare the conventional way of taking impressions—the way we were all taught in school—to the new way of capturing digital impressions:

Steps in Process Traditional Impressions Digital Impresions
Step 1 Choose correct impression material (alginate or polyvinyl) Turn on scanner
Step 2 Lay out tools (mixing pads, spatulas, adhesive, various sizes of trays, etc.) Select one of two scanner tips, small or large
Step 3 Select correct maxillary and madibular trays Scan area of interst
Step 4 Prepare trays and start mixing materials Upload STL files to lab
Step 5 Take impression (possibly struggling with a patient with a strong gag reflex)
Step 6 Pour up stone model
Step 7 Wait for model to dry
Step 8 Separate model
Step 9 Trim model
Step 10 Package and ship model to lab (and hope it doesn’t break)

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The Digital Difference: Keeping up with Impression Technology

The best feature, by far, of a digital impression is simply that it is digital. That changes everything. To understand how significant this is, let’s compare it to another digital system you are more familiar with—digital photography.

Infrastructure: Last century, BC (before computer) we took photographs with a film camera. This required a complex infrastructure that was purpose built and exclusive to photography. That is the film, the camera, the chemicals, the processing equipment and the printing materials were all exclusive to photography. In other words, you could not use the photography system to send a post card or take an impression. Continue reading