The Rapid Pace of Progress
Software and materials continue evolving to meet the market’s needs
Mark Samuel Chan, DD
Digital dentures are the last manufacturing hurdle that dentistry has not yet overcome in terms of semi-automation. With such a high demand for dentures and an appreciation for them as a valid restorative option, particularly in North America, the pace of innovation has accelerated in recent years. The need for this technology is only increasing, as well, because the industry is facing a scarcity of skilled analog denture technicians while the population is getting older and demanding more removable prosthetics.
What new developments excite you most?
More denture makers—dentists, denturists, prosthetic laboratory technicians—are realizing that technology can really help them on a day-to-day basis. You don't need to give up analog entirely. However, companies are realizing that there is a huge market for digital dentures, and they are utilizing input from analog technicians as they develop new software modules, in particular. From a materials standpoint, we suddenly have a vast portfolio of materials that are capable of going in the mouth, unlike just a few years ago. I am excited by the fact that the science and the technology are moving faster than we can keep up; we just need to compile more clinical testing. The more people utilize these materials, the more data we can obtain about the long-term survivability of the prosthetics.
Where does 3D printing stand in comparison with milling?
Most denture makers are still more comfortable with a milled product because the material is just PMMA, which we can handle and repair with traditional workflows such as relining. The milled denture is also a durable product; the only difference from analog dentures is the way the material is being processed from a mechanical standpoint. Printed dentures are getting close, however. We have materials that are definitely very esthetic, and we also have materials that are getting really strong. Where printing can surpass milling is in the geometry: Printing offers unlimited access to undercuts, shapes, and curves, whereas milling is limited by the tooling in the machine. In my opinion, printing will dominate denture making in the near future. For now, both technologies offer advantages, and each denture maker needs to evaluate which method is better for their workflow and their business.
What advice would you offer to digital denture novices?
Now is a great time to jump into digital technology because many of the early adopters have paved the way with our trials and tribulations. You still need a good foundation of denture making, so if you are a crown and bridge technician using digital technology to add removables to your portfolio, reaching out to a removable technician might be a good idea to establish a foundational understanding of the workflow before determining if dentures can be viable for your business. There is definitely a learning curve, but if you put in the necessary effort, you can recoup your investment in the technology. However, if you expect to let the software and the machines do all the work, you are likely setting yourself up for failure. You need to spend the time learning the technology so you can apply your skills and knowledge to the digital process.
Digital denture technology is exciting for me as a young denturist because it has made us so much more efficient. I can go home earlier—but only after putting in the effort to overcome the learning curve.
About the Author
Mark Samuel Chan, DD, is a denturist and laboratory technician at McCabe Denture & Implant Solutions in Cambridge, Ontario.