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CAD/CAM in the Dental Lab


CAD/CAM technology is becoming more common in dental labs, bringing with it advantages and disadvantages.

Dental laboratory technicians (DLTs) work with a wide range of high-tech tools and materials to create prosthetics like bridges and crowns. Those tools include plenty of older, established technologies such as abrasive blasters and dental lathes, but also include powerful computers and CAD/CAM technology for designing and fabricating prosthetics. If you become a DLT, there’s a good chance you’ll work not only with your hands, but also with some of the most advanced computer design and fabrication technology out there today.

Related Resource: A Guide to Dental Prosthetics

What is CAD/CAM?

CAD and CAM stand for computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing, respectively, though in the dental lab each prosthetic is still custom made rather than manufactured. Dental CAD/CAM allows DLTs to work with a digital 3D model of a patient’s teeth instead of the more traditional physical dental impressions and molds. DLTs using CAD/CAM create a 3D model of the patient’s mouth, then model the prosthetic. When it’s time to make the crown, bridge, or other prosthetic, they’ll generally mill it out of a single block of fabrication material. The process is a bit different from traditional dental lab fabrication methods and presents a few advantages and disadvantages.

Related Resource: Dental Laboratory Tools and How to Use Them

Advantages of CAD/CAM

Dental CAD/CAM can be very fast. Depending on a lab’s proximity to a dentist’s office and the lab’s workload, it’s conceivable that a patient could be fitted for and receive that prosthetic the very same day. CAD/CAM is also precise, and allows for dental labs to work with a variety of cutting-edge materials such as zirconia and ceramics. DLTs work hard to hone their precision with manual tools, but CAD/CAM allows them to take that precision even further, and make fine alterations to prosthetics that even the best-trained human hand or eye would miss.

Related Resource: Interview With Dental Lab Tech Instructor Peter Shull

Disadvantages of CAD/CAM

Costs and learning curve are major roadblocks to wider adoption of CAD/CAM technology. The computers, software, and milling machinery needed to make CAD/CAM prosthetics are all specialized and expensive, even more so than other dental lab technology. Part of that expense is the specialized training dental laboratory technicians need to use it. There certainly are transferable skills from creating prosthetics manually to digitally, but they are very different skills. A DLT who can do both will be a valuable commodity to many dental labs.

Related Resource: Where Can a DLT Work?

At the end of the day, you’re still a DLT

Regardless of whether you’re using a computer or a lathe, some things never change for a DLT. No matter what tools you’re using, you’ll have to be precise and pay attention to the details that make each patient unique. You’ll have to keep in mind factors such as how your prosthetic will sit in relation to the patient’s other teeth, how it will look and feel, and what color it will be. At the end of the day, you’re still a DLT, and you have to use your tools to the best of your ability.

Are you ready to craft prosthetics as a dental lab tech? Take a moment to learn more about Utah’s only accredited dental laboratory technician program, and keep in touch with the Ameritech community on Facebook.