The stuff of science fiction is showing up in dental offices. Dentists and prosthodontists are using computers to make teeth, implants and dentures.
It's a process called computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing, or CAD/CAM.
Irene Hasal has been through the wringer with her teeth. She had many procedures to fix problems and finally got implants. Within a month, her teeth were breaking.
Then, Dr. Mamaly Reshad, a prosthodontist at the Anacapa Dental Art Institute, told her about CAD/CAM. A computer scans the patient's mouth to make a custom image of what's needed.
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"We put it inside the computer like a cartoon – an avatar – and from there, we create a tooth, a virtual tooth. The virtual tooth becomes a real tooth through a manufacturing process," Reshad said.
A computer-aided milling machine makes teeth out of a block of ceramic or composite resin.
Reshad used CAD/CAM for Hasal's whole procedure. It helped him to find the best placement for her implants and to make a prosthesis.
Hasal's case was complicated and took almost a year. But CAD/CAM can do one to two teeth in a morning.
"Now, because it's going through this avatar, the computer, it can be done almost instantaneously – the same day. At least within two hours," Reshad explained.
The result brought a perfect smile to Hasal's face.
"I can do anything I want now. They fit great, they're beautiful and my face is the proper shape. So I couldn't be happier," she said.
The CAD/CAM process takes much less time than a conventional procedure, which can take weeks. Reshad said on average, it costs about 30 percent less as well. But the procedure is not typically covered by insurance.