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February 2022
Volume 43, Issue 2

Breaking Through the Barriers of CAD Software

Matthew Newman

When broken down into its basic parts, digital dentistry (aka, CAD/CAM dentistry) is really somewhat simple. If one can grasp the concept of using an iPhone, one can handle digital dentistry.

The digital workflow allows clinicians to work, not necessarily harder, but smarter, with the results being more economic production, faster turnaround times, and exponential precision. Not only can the process be easier than conventional methods, but digital tools have also become more affordable than even a few years ago. Scanning is unquestionably the easiest part of digital dentistry, and clinicians should at least be doing this in their practice.

Computer-assisted design (CAD), or at least the premise of it, on the other hand can be a bit more overwhelming. One of the hurdles with design software has always been that it was created with laboratory experts in mind. The thinking was that technical staff would be doing more of the design work than clinicians. Not coincidentally, many clinicians send their scans to labs to be designed by "the experts."

This trend, however, is slowly changing. With a boom occurring in digital and CAD/CAM dentistry, many doctors are, rightly, finally making the leap to bringing some or all of that workflow in-house to be done chairside. Part of the reason why is because it's getting easier to do. Manufacturers are producing software that, compared to typical programs in the past, is geared more for dental teams. Clinicians need to know what to look for and obtain enough feedback to corroborate their choices.

Ease of use in design software is not necessarily a given. One way clinicians can ascertain that they are not looking at a simplified version of a lab-friendly program is by how many clicks it takes on average to design a restoration. Design softwares can range from being very intimidating (not to mention expensive), even for those who have dabbled in the craft already, to being simply dumbed-down versions of overly technical lab software but still with a myriad of somewhat unnecessary options. Getting through the downloads and configurations with some platforms can exhaust one's patience even before starting the design process. The process can be intimidating to not only the doctor but the staff as well.

Closed, all-inclusive systems definitely offer convenience and ease of use, but buying design software embedded into a complete system can be costly. Full systems come with their own design software and can be easy to use because of the seamless operation with its other components; however, the sum of the parts may take the clinician into the highest end of the price range of all "do-it-yourself" CAD/CAM systems. Plus, if clinicians aren't ready to mill and prep, they essentially are locked into the brand by purchasing software that is built into a closed system.

Selecting design software that stands on its own affords the user the freedom to try other brands to see what feels best. A basic scanner purchased for half the price of another that is part of a system would allow the practice to have two scanners being used in the office, rather than having to wait for the one (tied to the built-in design software) to be freed up. Besides fees for the equipment itself, some design softwares are priced in the thousands for the software alone and have additional licensing and yearly subscription fees for sending designs to a lab. Very few software products allow users to get by on a manageable fee or operate without storage space, and just a couple are cloud-based with no storage needed. One might think that if a company was focused on making the best design software, it would focus on that alone.

To educate themselves, clinicians should first talk to trustworthy digital dentistry industry experts, preferably someone who is familiar with several different brands and perhaps has had experience using different products. Second, seek out peers, both in person and on social media. There are many dentistry groups in which members share both positive and negative experiences, post and discuss cases for feedback, and offer advice on just about any aspect of digital dentistry.

Design software exists in many forms. Clinicians should look for products that are convenient, innovative, easy to use, and designed by those with experience. Fees range widely, so clinicians need to do their due diligence to understand exactly what they are paying for, both initially and regularly after the transaction is complete. The right software product is out there for every user, even if it isn't the same for all.

About the Author

Matthew Newman
Director of Sales Operations, Marketing, and Public Relations, CAD-Ray North America (

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