Digital imaging is the future of dentistry that is here today. Most everything, including orthodontics, implant placement, denture construction and tooth restoration, can be accomplished digitally. This greatly improves accuracy and safety, and decreases the time necessary to deliver the final product, saving money.

In all cases, the image files serve as a roadmap to the final destination. With digital imaging, changes can be made in the planning stage to fine tune the result. It also allows for either digital printing, milling, or fabrication of guides necessary to be used intraorally during the treatment.

Take the case of a single tooth implant replacement. A 3D scan is made of the patient. This is an X-ray that shows the teeth and bone of the site in question, along with the adjacent teeth and structures.

In the mouth, an optical impression is made in the mouth with a device like Cerec (the acquisition unit used in the making of one-day crowns). The crown is planned in the space where the tooth is to be replaced.

This digital impression that shows the planned crown is merged and overlaid with the 3-D X-ray file to show the final desired position of the restored tooth, relative to the bone and surrounding structures.

Using planning software, the implant can be virtually positioned in the ideal position to where the final crown is desired. This merged file is then able to be transformed into a surgical guide that fits in the mouth and shows the exact position where the implant is to go.

Once the implant is placed, another scan is made to indicate its position. The planned crown can then be designed and fabricated to place on the implant, where appropriate, to act as a temporary.

After 2 to 6 months, when the implant is fully integrated with the bone, this same design can be used to fabricate the final implant crown. The final crown is then delivered and the case is complete.

Eliminating the guesswork greatly improves the quality and success rate of the final restoration. This is especially true in tight spaces between the adjacent teeth roots and where there is minimal bone. The safety comes in due to avoidance of sensitive structures like nerves and sinuses.

We truly live in a time where we can take advantage of digital technology to help provide dental care to patients.

James G. Jenkins, D.M.D. is the owner of Bluffton Dental Care in Bluffton.