By Anthony M. Puntillo DDS, MSD
It is a New Year and I would guess that some of you may be considering new technology to add to your practice in 2014. If you have read my previous posts, you know that an impressionless orthodontic practice is finally a reality. The two pieces of equipment that are essential to achieve an impressionless practice are an intraoral scanner and a 3D printer. I have been asked to discuss intraoral scanners at the upcoming AAO annual session in New Orleans. As a prelude to that presentation, I thought I would highlight a few things to consider when deciding which scanning machine to purchase. (To be clear I have no skin in this game. I am not affiliated with or employed by any manufacture or supplier of these machines. My practice began using a scanner more than 6 years ago. We have used a few different models since that time and currently have three machines in use.)
The first major consideration before purchasing any machine is ACCURACY. Before you buy any intraoral scanner you want to make sure that it will accurately capture the data you are looking to collect. Some machines capture data by collecting still pictures and then use computer software to stitch the individual images together. Other machines eliminate the computer ”guess work” involved with stitching and use real time streaming video feed technology to capture images. Furthermore, some machines enable the user to select a high or low-resolution scan. You should know that the method of data capture and scan resolution can have a direct affect on image accuracy as well the image capture time.
The second and seemingly most obvious consideration is PRICE. I say seemingly obvious, because most of these machines have underlying costs associated with their purchase. These “after sticker” expenses include support or warranty costs, supply costs (i.e. disposable wand tips), and costs to store your captured 3D models. On the positive side, however, several of the companies also offer cost discounts or rebates on the use of associated products (i.e. clear aligners, orthodontic appliances, etc.). Make sure to consider all of the costs, and discounts, before buying any machine.
The third and final thing to consider is EASE OF USE. Ease of use actually is a broad term which includes several considerations such as: (1) Scan time- How long will it take for your assistants to capture an image? (2) File type- What type of file is created by the scan and is it a type that is accepted by the labs/companies you may want to send your scans to? (3) File storage and export – Are the scan files stored locally on your computers or in the cloud and how easy is it for your staff to transfer these files to a 3rd party for appliance fabrication? (4) Unit size and wand size- How portable is the unit? Can it be easily moved within an office or transported from office to office? How heavy and or bulky is the scanning wand? (5) Scanner software– Is the scanner software intuitive or will there be a significant learning curve for your staff? (6) Patient comfort- Does the machine require that the patients’ teeth be coated with a powder prior to scanning to improve accuracy?
In conclusion, the purchase of an intraoral scanner is a significant investment for most practices. There are several things that should be considered when determining which machine is the right one for your practice. I hope this quick review provides you with some insight that will be valuable in the consideration of your purchase. If you would like to hear a more detailed discussion on this topic, I encourage you to attend my presentation in New Orleans and look forward to seeing you there.