State-of-the-art scanning technology for the orthodontics department

Digital intra oral scanner | Funded by Nottingham Hospitals Charity 01

There are many procedures in a healthcare setting that can sometimes make patients feel nervous or anxious.

For the consultants in the Orthodontics and Maxillofacial Department at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, they are well aware that dental appointments can induce anxiety in some patients – but a project funded by Nottingham Hospitals Charity has set out to speed up treatment, all while making the experience more comfortable for those sat in the chair.

Mr Andrew Flett is a Consultant Orthodontist and has been at the Trust for eight years. For many of his patients, one of the first stages of providing treatment is to take dental impressions – physical moulds of a patient’s teeth, in order to assess, diagnose and plan how to care for the patient. Impressions are also often taken throughout the duration of treatment over a longer period of time to monitor progress, as well as at the end to measure the improvement, after treatment.
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Digital intra oral scanner | Funded by Nottingham Hospitals Charity 2

What are traditional dental impressions?

To create these impressions, patients would be required to sit still in a chair while a pliable material (called aliginate) is placed in the mouth around the teeth for 30 seconds or more, to physically create a replica version of a patient’s teeth, by producing a gypsum-based (stone) model. This can be an uncomfortable and time-consuming process – especially unpleasant for younger patients who have not had dental impressions made before, or individuals who have experienced facial trauma.

Once produced, these dental models have be kept secure for up to 11 years, creating an additional, costly storage challenge here at the hospital. Once that timeframe had elapsed, the models would need to be carefully disposed of by a specialist team, as they are traditionally not made of a material which is easily recycled. 

Digital intra oral scanner | Funded by Nottingham Hospitals Charity 5

A new innovative approach

Over the years, Andrew has witnessed the evolution of many practices within orthodontics, one of which is innovation in scanning. Today, many pieces of equipment have been invented which do away with these uncomfortable, material impression techniques, and instead offer a new digital solution which makes it quicker and easier for patients to have their impressions made.

As such, Andrew applied for and successfully secured a grant of nearly £38,500 from Nottingham Hospitals Charity, to purchase a state-of-the-art digital intraoral scanner. This piece of handheld equipment connects to software on a computer, and is placed in the patient’s mouth. Using safe and painless laser technology, the scanner can produce a digital 3D model of a patient’s teeth in real-time, which the consultant can then use to review, measure and inform the patient about the treatment options.

Andrew explains the ambition for the project:

“As a department, we knew we would aim for a shift from analogue to digital capture of patient data within the next 5-10 years. This project is a pivotal step towards that goal.”

Digital intra oral scanner | Funded by Nottingham Hospitals Charity 6

Benefiting patients here in Nottingham

The new digital intraoral scanner, which is now being used by hundreds of patients every year, has made a huge impact on patient care, including:
  • A more comfortable patient experience – the transition to digital scans has eliminated the discomfort associated with traditional impressions, especially for children and patients who have experienced trauma or require significant treatment.
  • Reducing chair time – compared to traditional impressions, the scanner significantly reduces the time patients spend as their impressions are created.
  • Quicker treatment – once captured, the scans are sent digitally straight to colleagues in the lab, to plan next steps in treatment and care.
  • Better communication between patient and clinician – by having a 3D model immediately available on screen, the consultant can have a more clear conversation with the patient about their teeth, helping to explain what they have seen and diagnosed, and what the next steps are.
  • More accurate treatment planning – Our jaw surgery cases can be planned entirely digitally, reducing the risk of repeated errors in dental model production.
  • Superior cross infection control – Impressions now do not have to be disinfected and carried around the hospital for processing at the MFU lab.
Digital intra oral scanner | Funded by Nottingham Hospitals Charity 1
The benefits of the digital intraoral scanner go beyond routine dental applications and will also support other patients cared for across the department, including orthognathic surgery, cleft lip and palate treatment, congenital hypodontia, craniofacial syndromes, oral cancer repair, restorative reconstruction, and severe tooth wear cases.

The project has also benefited the department and the hospital trust operationally, by:
  • Reducing time – it is much faster to create digital models, which can then be 3D printed for physical assessment at the hospital, if required
  • Saving money – the materials needed for physical impressions are costly, and once produced, hard to store
  • Efficient quality assessment – scores are given at the start and end of treatment on the models, to assess the quality of care and outcomes in orthodontic cases. This will be much quicker and easier by using digital scans.

Looking into the future

Now the equipment is in situ, Andrew plans to take his experience using the scanner beyond NUH – to support patient care beyond Nottinghamshire. The department will be conducting a research project into patient comfort and satisfaction, and hope to publish findings in a peer-reviewed UK journal and present them at the British Orthodontic Conference.

Andrew said:

“Pip Wardle and Anek Mehta in the Digital Services team have been instrumental in implementation of new technology in the Orthodontic and Maxillofacial Department.

“This process is far cleaner, better and more comfortable for the patient. Now, with just a few taps on the keyboard and a click on the digital intraoral camera, all the necessary data and information usually captured by impressions and dental castings can be completed within five minutes.

“The project really does capture the ethos of tomorrow’s NUH by embracing new technology and techniques, whilst improving patient comfort and the experience in the orthodontic dental chair. The days of messy dental impressions are numbered and will soon be consigned to history.

“I am very grateful to donors at Nottingham Hospitals Charity. Without their generosity, projects like this would not be possible – thank you very much.”

You can make a difference to patients requiring orthodontic care, right here in Nottingham’s NHS hospitals. Together, we can ensure that every patient feels comfortable, reassured and supported throughout their care. Donate and make a difference for patients right here in Nottingham.

Donate and make a difference for patients right here in Nottingham.

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