By Col. Richard Batzer
Peterson Area Dental Laboratory director
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — The professionals at the Peterson Area Dental Lab are adding a new tool to their arsenal: the Bluecam bench top scanner.
The innovative Bluecam technology will enable the Area Dental Lab’s all-ceramic team to leap to the next level of dental laboratory technology in creating dental crowns.
A dental crown is a type of dental restoration which completely caps or encircles a tooth. Crowns are often needed when a large cavity or a broken piece off of a tooth threatens the ongoing health of the tooth. The most common method of placing a crown on a tooth involves making a physical impression or mold of a tooth that has been prepared by a dentist. Dental stone (similar to plaster) is then poured into the impression to make a precise physical model of the patient’s tooth. The crown is then fabricated outside of the patient’s mouth in a dental laboratory such as the Peterson Area Dental Lab.
The crown is then inserted at a subsequent patient appointment, often many weeks or even months after the initial procedure. Employing this indirect method of tooth restoration allows use of strong restorative materials requiring very time consuming fabrication methods in the dental laboratory and utilizing intense heat, such as when casting metal or firing porcelain. Typical hands-on time to fabricate a dental crown utilizing these traditional methods is approximately 11 hours. As new technology and materials science has evolved, computers have increasingly become a part of the crown fabrication process as dentistry has gone digital.
The quantum leap into digital dentistry techniques utilizing computer aided design/computer aided manufacturing techniques was unveiled in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1985. Today, it is hard to imagine dentistry without the capabilities of modern CAD/CAM techniques. Digital impression making, the computation of patient-specific biting surfaces, virtual dental models composed of multiple scan images and three dimensional designs on a computer monitor would all be impossible without the aid of computers.
Ceramic reconstruction is a dental restoration production system that allows a dentist to produce an indirect ceramic restoration using a variety of computer assisted technologies, including three dimensional photography and CAD/CAM. After tooth preparation, a traditional physical impression and stone model can be made, or alternatively, the tooth can be photographed using an intra-oral camera and stored on a computer as a three-dimensional model. Proprietary software is then used to approximate the tooth shape using comparisons to adjacent teeth. The dentist or laboratory technician refines the model using the CAD software. When the design phase is complete, the information is sent from the computer to a ceramic milling unit where the actual crown restoration is milled from a solid ceramic block using diamond burs, which are like small drill bits.
Utilizing the CEREC system, the Air Force Dental Corps implemented this leap into the age of digital dentistry in 2004. The system has decreased the labor and costs involved in the manufacturing of ceramic dental restorations. Additionally, use of the CEREC system has dramatically reduced the turnaround time necessary to produce these restorations, a significant force multiplier.
Until recently, intra-oral scans and scans of stone models were done with a camera employing an infrared light source. In late 2010, the CEREC system unveiled an exciting new development. The light source changed from infrared to blue diodes, reducing the wavelength of the light by half. In practice, this change translates to 60 percent greater detail achieved during data acquisition. This cutting edge “Bluecam” technology provides greater depth of field and enhanced detail reproduction at the edges of the tooth, laying the foundation for extremely precise ceramic restorations for the patient. Stated another way, the technology change is analogous to the evolution of quality from a basic color television to a 3-D HDTV or a VCR to a Blu-ray disc.
With the two Bluecam bench top scanners, set to arrive in early April, technicians will be able to scan models or utilize files sent electronically from dentists around the globe to fabricate very precise dental restorations efficiently and with tremendous speed. Using the CEREC system, production of a final product can be achieved in less than two hours compared to the 11 hours needed for traditional production processes.
There will soon be a day when an Air Force dentist equipped with a Bluecam intraoral scanner will be able to email a file to the area dental lab where the milling process could be initiated in a matter of minutes. A precise ceramic restoration could be milled in less than 12 minutes. The process will literally be constrained only by the time it takes the courier service to deliver the crown to the patient’s physical location, providing extremely fast patient care to the war fighter.
The all-ceramic team at the Peterson Area Dental Lab is excited to demonstrate how this new innovation in digital dentistry will lead to tremendous improvements in how they treat their dental patients both at Peterson and around the globe.