Digital Smile Design: Virtual to Reality

Team Cosmetic Dentistry

Imagine you’ve always hated your smile or wished you could improve it in some way.  A person’s smile is arguably one of the most prominent features of their face and changing it requires careful consideration.  How is it going to look?  Am I going to like it?  Maybe I want whiter teeth?  Or maybe not?  Until recently, if a person decided to improve their smile with restorative/cosmetic dentistry, the potential outcome would not be visible (to the patient or the dentist) until treatment was already started or even completed! 

In previous articles about digital dentistry this year, we discussed new digital techniques available to make dentistry more accurate, more predictable and more comfortable from initial diagnosis through treatment including the modern age of digital implant treatments.  Another exciting development occurring today is the advent of digital smile design.

Digital smile design is a blanket term that refers to software programs that can preview a potential new smile using digital photos of a patient’s face.  The dentist can manipulate and design new teeth virtually onto the photos including the shape, contour, color and texture.  Although these software programs have been available for some time, they never seemed to gain much popularity.  In the past while it was possible to create a pleasing picture in the software, we were not always confident we could replicate it in the patient’s mouth.

However, with recent advancements in digital technology both in the dental office and the dental laboratory (where the new teeth are actually manufactured), we are developing confidence today that we can create a smile on a computer screen then predictably create it in the mouth.  When a patient has an initial visit, digital photos and 3D intraoral surface scans are taken.  The photos are loaded into the software and new teeth can be designed and custom fit.  The dentist and the patient can have a collaborative smile design consultation on the computer where the patient can preview different styles and shapes of teeth and provide specific input.  After the initial “architectural” plan is completed, we can add the desired color and surface texture to finish the virtual smile.

It’s one thing to see a pretty picture on a monitor.  But how will it look and feel in the mouth?  Once the design is approved by the patient and dentist, a three-dimensional file of the design can be created and 3D printed. The potential new outcome can be transferred to the patient’s mouth in the dental office using white filling materials before any treatment is made to the teeth and gums.  The patient and the dentist can evaluate the design and the patient can “test drive” a new smile before they commit to moving forward.  And if the patient decides they want to move forward, the very same records and design are shared with the dental laboratory to ensure a predictable outcome.

Contact us today to learn more about this exciting new technology and how it can improve your smile!