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School’s technology upgrade features new digital intraoral scanners6 min read

February 10, 2021

School’s technology upgrade features new digital intraoral scanners6 min read

Students, faculty and staff stand with the new digital scanners incorporated into the curriculum and patient treatment.

Ann Arbor, Mich., Feb. 10, 2021 – Students and faculty at the School of Dentistry are using the latest in digital technology this semester after new equipment was purchased and integrated into the curriculum at the recommendation of the school’s Dental Technology Committee.

Nineteen digital intraoral scanners were purchased last fall and implemented on a limited basis as faculty and students were trained in their use. Beginning in January, the scanners are available as students and faculty treat patients. The new equipment and software significantly improves the accuracy and speed with which impressions of a patient’s mouth and teeth can be created, which in turn can lead to faster and better restorations.

Digital intraoral scanners have been used at the school previously by a few faculty and residents, as the technology was refined in recent decades as part of the evolution known as Computer-Aided Design and Computer-Aided Manufacturing, or CAD/CAM. However, this new installation is a significant upgrade for the school, both in terms of the latest advances in imaging technology and increasing the number of scanners available in classrooms and the student clinics. Now the increased quantity means every student has access to an intraoral scanner for their patients.

The scanners consist of a wand-like, hand-held device that is placed in the patient’s mouth to capture images of teeth and oral tissue. The resulting 3-Dimensional images are then displayed on a computer screen. The images can be rotated, enlarged and manipulated in various ways to help the student and faculty determine both the problems and solutions for the patient’s care. Paired with milling equipment, the digital images can be used to create, for example, a ceramic crown or fixed partial dentures.

The new technology won’t completely replace dentistry’s longstanding method of making impressions of a patient’s mouth by sometimes using alginate, a mushy substance that hardens in the mouth to form the impression. In that method, the impression is usually sent off to an outside lab which manufactures the prosthesis needed by the patient. It is a time-consuming process and requires a follow-up appointment to fit the patient with the finished prosthesis. Outside labs will continue to make most of those restorations for now, but the new equipment means that some restorations can be done at the dental school, often during the same appointment.

The digital equipment, purchased with support from the Office of the Provost, includes 14 CEREC Omnicams, four CEREC Primescans and one Trios scanner from 3Shape. The Omnicams are used by students in the Simulation Lab where they practice techniques on mannequins and plastic teeth. Students learn strategies for capturing accurate digital impressions and evaluating all-ceramic crown preparations. They use basic CEREC CAD software to design and manufacture crowns. Last fall, for the first time in school history, all second-year students manufactured an all-ceramic crown using every step in the CAD/CAM process. The Primescans are exclusively for patient care and will be used for single restorations, fixed partial dentures, implant restorations, occlusal guards and impressions for complete dentures. 

The purchase and implementation of the new equipment was the first recommendation made by the school’s Dental Technology Committee, established in 2019 to study and coordinate how the school is best-served by emerging technological innovations in dentistry. The committee is co-chaired by Dr. Stephen Sterlitz, clinical assistant professor in the department of Cariology, Restorative Sciences and Endodontics, and Dr. Gustavo Mendonca, Clinical Associate Professor of Dentistry in the Department of Biologic and Materials Sciences & Prosthodontics, with members from each of the school’s departments and dental students.

“The School of Dentistry is entering an exciting era in dental technology – one where technology is available, efficient and reliable on a large scale,” Sterlitz said. He notes that research has demonstrated that the precision of digital imaging is superior to the previous longstanding methods and that efficient and cost-effective manufacturing options continue to grow and develop. “Michigan has a proud tradition of being a school based on research and teaching evidence-based principles. There is a danger of chasing unproven technology just because it is the latest and promises the best outcomes. We do not want to chase just any emerging technology, we want to teach proven technology.”

Mendonca said the new equipment will improve both education and patient care. “Training the students to be able to use intraoral scanners to obtain images and generate models from the typodont and patient’s mouth will help them visualize better what they need to do,” he said. “It helps faculty create more realistic simulations in the preclinical courses, and helps faculty and students to better discuss the patient’s needs by using vivid, color, 3-D models of the patient’s mouth.”

In addition to sparing patients from possible discomfort when using the standard alginate method, the digital method is more efficient, Mendonca said. “We can have real-time discussion with the students about whether the digital impression is OK before sending the digital file to the laboratory. And the turn-around time can be reduced significantly because files can be sent digitally.”

Lynn Johnson, the school’s Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs and Institutional Effectiveness, oversees the school’s information technology department and is a nationally recognized leader in adapting the latest technology to advance dental education. She says the latest scanner acquisition is just part of the school’s ongoing efforts to teach students how to navigate many emerging trends, such as how to securely handle patient data and how to communicate with other healthcare providers about patients. “As a leading dental institution, U-M should be teaching students to use emerging technologies, as well as established technologies. This means that they will be better prepared to meet the many changing needs of their patients.”


The University of Michigan School of Dentistry is one of the nation’s leading dental schools engaged in oral health care education, research, patient care and community service.  General dental care clinics and specialty clinics providing advanced treatment enable the school to offer dental services and programs to patients throughout Michigan.  Classroom and clinic instruction prepare future dentists, dental specialists and dental hygienists for practice in private offices, hospitals, academia and public agencies.  Research seeks to discover and apply new knowledge that can help patients worldwide.  For more information about the School of Dentistry, visit us on the Web at:  Contact: Lynn Monson, associate director of communications, at, or (734) 615-1971.