Return on investment for an intraoral scanner will depend in large part on how your dental practice is currently set up. Factors such as which services make up the largest part of your business, what you see as growth areas, how many impression retakes and device remakes you do on average, and how progressive or traditional your target demographic is will all impact whether intraoral scanning technology is worth the financial cost and the learning curve. Dentists we spoke to who said they are satisfied with their purchase gave the following reasons.
1. Increased overall efficiency, particularly quicker turnaround times from start to finish. Similar to the speed difference in sending a letter via traditional mail versus email, a digital scan is uploaded electronically—so there’s no delay in receipt and the manufacturing process can begin immediately. Patients with sleep apnea are treated more quickly, which is appreciated by patients and referring providers alike.
2. Increased accuracy, which in turn means fewer remakes and less chair time. We have not been able to find any peer-reviewed studies specifically on the accuracy of oral appliances for sleep apnea digital impressions versus traditional impressions, and a 2017 review article found accuracy results to be mixed, depending on the type of device or implant to be created from the impression.1 But anecdotally, dental sleep medicine practitioners say they have reduced oral appliance remakes by using digital impressions, spend less chair time making adjustments, and if impression retakes are needed, they are taken immediately during the same appointment (because the user can see the 3-D scan right away and notice if any areas may be unclear). Intuitively, the electronic workflow means the impressions are not distorted by problems such as gagging, tongue thrusts, saliva contamination, shipping temperature, or imprecise lab pour-ups.
3. Cost savings due to purchasing less traditional impression material. Particularly if you do many full-mouth impressions, the cost savings and storage space savings can be substantial.
4. Satisfied patients and referring providers, particularly if this begets more referrals. Patients appreciate not having to endure the discomfort of traditional impression materials, and a few may be motivated to pursue treatment who would not have otherwise. Their satisfaction has in some cases led patients to refer their friends who have failed CPAP to the specific dentist where they had a positive experience. Also, referring providers tend to be satisfied with the speed of therapy initiation, which may lead to additional referrals over other competing dental sleep medicine practitioners. Because many dentists finance their intraoral scanner purchases, increased dental sleep medicine patient referrals could conceivably cover the payment each month.
5. Easier oral appliance replacements and duplicates. If the patient’s dog eats his oral appliance (yes, this has happened) or simply if a frequent traveler wants a second device to store in his suitcase, you can typically order a new appliance online using the saved scans (as long as the patient’s teeth haven’t moved). This is versus traditional pour-ups, where typically the dental lab would not be able to reliably locate old models.
6. Usage opportunities across multiple services and multiple types of dentistry. Dentists who purchase intraoral scanners typically use them across the board for services ranging from dental sleep to orthodontics to implants and more. If you offer multiple services, research whether there are established uses for digital scanning across the various types of services.
7. Portability. If you practice in multiple locations, you will likely only need to purchase one intraoral scanner. Particularly if you partner on-site with physicians or other healthcare facilities to take oral appliance impressions, the portability of taking digital impressions is an advantage over traditional impressions. (If you do partner with other physicians/facilities, be sure to check with a healthcare attorney first to ensure the relationship does not violate rules or regulations, such as those governing how many Medicare providers can work out of the same office.)
Sree Roy is editor of Sleep Review.
Top Photo: When dentists submit oral appliance impressions digitally, it typically speeds the workflow at oral appliance manufacturers that accept these scans. Here, a worker at Panthera Dental designs an oral appliance using computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacturer (CAD/CAM) techniques.
1. Mangano F, Gandolfi A, Luongo G, Logozzo S. Intraoral scanners in dentistry: a review of the current literature. BMC Oral Health. 2017;17:149.