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A History of Dental Technology – part 2 – CAD/CAM

Photo - Ceramic block set in a CEREC milling machine

A History of Dental Technology – part 2 – CAD/CAM

A dental history in 8 technologies – part 2

Dentistry has changed in the 150-years or so since it became a widely understood, regulated medical profession. But some of the technologies we use today would be unrecognisable to 19th-century dentists. During that time, procedures, materials technologies, microbiology and electronics have all interacted to create increasingly cleaver instruments, tools, gadgets and procedures for dentists.

Following our well-received article on ‘Coal Fired Dentistry‘, we thought we’d take a quick look at some of the key the technologies we take for granted every day.

Cad/Cam

Computer Aided Design started life in the 1950s, so has been with us for as long as commercially useful computers.

Photo - The author can remember using punched-cards to input data for CAD systems during the design of the Bristol Ring-road during the 1980s.

The author can remember using punched-cards to input data for CAD systems during the design of the Bristol Ring-road during the 1980s.

Initially, like all early computer systems, CAD was complex and difficult to use, often requiring instructions to be input on punched cards.

Image - This type of image is known as a 'wire-frame' and was widely used in mechanical CAD systems (still is).

This type of image is known as a ‘wire-frame’ and was widely used in mechanical CAD systems (still is).

Over time it has become more visual, more interactive and easier to use.

It also became more 3-dimensional, more useful, and of course more affordable.

Image - The development of Solid Modelling systems led to the introduction of CAD into medical applications.

The development of Solid Modelling systems led to the introduction of CAD into medical applications.

It has also developed a wider range of ways to input data (such as digital scanners) and evermore sophisticated methods to control an increasingly broad range of machines that actually ‘make’ things. This last set of features is known as Computer Aided Manufacturing or CAM and is increasingly used in dentistry.

Image - Digital images created with intraoral scanning devices can be sued to create detailed surface models. Used with CAD systems they can help create the models needed to manufacture crowns and other devices.

Digital images created with intraoral scanning devices can be sued to create detailed surface models. Used with CAD systems they can help create the models needed to manufacture crowns and other devices.

By scanning the mouth with an intraoral digital scanner, dentists can create a 3-D surface model within a CAD programme. That programme can then create instructions known as ‘tool paths’ for milling machines, other cutting tools or else additive systems. These tool paths instruct the milling machine on how to cut blocks of material and sculpt them into the shape of a crown, veneer or inlay.

Increasingly, these tool paths are being used with ‘additive manufacturing devices’. commonly known as 3-D printers. These devices create ‘things’ by adding material layer by layer, instead of removing material layer by layer in a milling machine.

Digital models created in CAD systems can be used for both in-house manufacturing, and to supplement the information given to dental labs creating more complex appliances.

Photo - CEREC milling machine

A typical CEREC type milling machine for making crowns, veneers and inlays.

Combined CAD/CAM techniques and technologies used in dentistry are often referred to as a CEREC system, the first of which was introduced in 1985. CEREC systems are, however, still in their infancy. One of the problems has been serviceability.

Photo - The raw block mounted and ready to be milled into a crown by the cutting heads of a CEREC type machine.

The raw block mounted and ready to be milled into a crown by the cutting heads of a CEREC type machine.

These are highly precise devices, and it is easy for them to become damaged and expensive to fix. However, more robust, easier to use systems are constantly being introduced – plus more and more dentists and nurses are familiar with their operation. The result is that they will inevitably increase in popularity offering quicker dental restorative treatments to more people.

Using CAD/CAM technologies with Pearl

Pearl Dental Software is designed to make integration of digital imaging, CAD and Dental CAM systems a simple task. We can securely link files from dozens of imaging systems to patient records and lab orders making it simple to recall previous images for comparison, to track digital files sent to laboratories and to manage appliances manufactured on your own premises.

For more information, please contact us on 0116 275 9995 or email info@bhasoftware.com

Chris Webb
Chris Webb
chris@precisionpr.co.uk