Twenty years ago, David Wilson designed dental implants and crowns freehand.
By 2004, however, Wilson, founder of the Center for Cosmetic & General Dentistry in Owensboro, started implementing new digital technology in his office. Over the years, innovations in digital dentistry have transformed his practice.
Today, he uses three-dimensional X-rays and CAD/CAM programs to virtually design teeth.
"(Digital dentistry) is the most accurate way to construct a crown and design an implant," Wilson said.
State-of-the-art technology comes at a cost. One piece of equipment can cost up to $150,000. While digital dentistry is expensive, it is the leading edge, Wilson said.
Digital dentistry offers advantages to practitioners and patients.
For example, most patients no longer sit with a mouthful of impression material to make a mold of teeth and gums.
Another plus: When digital X-rays first were introduced to dentistry, they reduced the amount of patient radiation by 75%. As technology improved, that has climbed to about 90% now, Wilson said.
With digital X-rays, dentists immediately receive images. If X-rays are pixelated, providers can sharpen the images, increase the contrast for a better look, or highlight and enlarge areas of concern.
Three-dimensional X-rays can show a dentist the width of a jawbone -- a critical piece of information when placing implants.
"It allows us to see very important structures we don't want to impinge upon," Wilson said of sinuses, nerves, arteries and veins.
By transferring a patient's 3-D X-rays to a CAD/CAM program, dentists can digitally design a crown, making sure the bite is perfect.
The University of Louisville is deep into digital dentistry. In fact, a lab in the School of Dentistry Division of Radiology and Imaging Science owns a 3D virtual print lab that designs and manufactures "accurate life-size resin models of jawbones, parts of faces and even entire skulls," according to 2017 a U of L article titled "Digital advances mean big wins for customized patient care."
In a June newsletter, the School of Dentistry announced a student had scanned, designed and produced an in-house milled crown for a patient. Also, medical and dental faculty and students will work with U of L's engineering faculty and students to develop medical and dental devices that can be brought to market.
And University of Kentucky announced in June 2017 its College of Dentistry would "join a select group of pilot institutions in launching the American College of Prosthodontists Digital Dentistry Curriculum." UK was one of four schools nationwide asked to pilot the curriculum.
Owensboro dentist Terry Ward has been practicing digital dentistry since 2004.
His office now makes digital impressions for full dentures. Those images can be sent to specialists, labs or other dentists via email.
There's no X-ray film to develop, which saves time. Besides, digital images are easily stored and accessed for future use.
"(Digital dentistry) was a game-changer," Ward said. "It made it easier for patients and us as providers. It's part of the evolution of dentistry."
Renee Beasley Jones, 270-228-2835, firstname.lastname@example.org.