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What Is CAD/CAM Technology?

CAD and CAM are two acronyms that are often used together when speaking about dental restorations. CAD stands for computer aided design, which is used to increase the efficiency of design processes in many industries of all types today. CAM stands for computer aided manufacturing, which can be used to create objects to exacting specifications using a variety of materials. Together, these two technologies have helped to improve the process of dental restoration in many ways.

CAD/CAM Uses in Dentistry

Using CAD/CAM technologies, dental laboratories are able to create dental prostheses such as:

  • Veneers
  • Inlays
  • Onlays
  • Crowns
  • Crown onlays
  • Fixed bridges
  • Personalized orthodontic appliances
  • Dental implant abutments
  • Dentures

CAD/CAM versus Traditional Restoration

Traditional restoration requires dentists to make a cast of the tooth or teeth being restored, which is then sent to a dental lab, where a prosthetic is designed and fabricated. The process can take up to several weeks, during which patients are often fitted with temporary crowns of prosthetics. With CAD/CAM technology, the process of crafting prosthetics is much faster, so patients do not have to go through separate procedures to have temporary prosthetics fitted, removed, and replaced.

Improvements in CAD/CAM Technology

CAD/CAM technology has been used in dentistry since the 1980s, but the process was troublesome and the results were often sub-par at that time. In the years since, technology has come a long way and CAD/CAM technology has come to be a more reliable solution than it was in the past. Restorations crafted with the help of CAD/CAM technology are now more natural looking, durable, and better fitting. However, CAD/CAM is not ideal for all restorations; dentists may sometimes recommend traditional restoration methods.

CAD/CAM Restoration Procedure

To begin a restoration using CAD/CAM technology, a dentist takes a scan of a patient’s mouth and sends it to a dental laboratory. The digital scan is then used to create a virtual restoration that shows the laboratory technician what the results will look like and what the prosthetic will look like. The technician may make changes to the virtual restoration at this point, if needed. After the digital image has been approved, it is sent to a milling machine where the prosthetic is carved out of composite resin or ceramic. This restoration is then sent to the dentist and fitted in the patient’s mouth.

Pros and Cons of CAD/CAM Dentistry

CAD/CAM technology speeds up the process of restoration, so patients may require fewer office visits. CAD/CAM restorations are often more durable and less likely to fracture than prosthetics made using traditional processes. However, CAD/CAM prosthetics may appear less natural than traditionally made prosthetics. CAD/CAM restorations may also be more costly to fabricate than restorations made using traditional methods. Dentists and patients should work together to discuss the best restoration options.