What to Look for in an Intraoral Scanner

  • by Dan Kolen
  • May 9, 2022
Dentists are increasingly using intraoral scanners (IOSs), according to a recent survey conducted by the American Dental Association Clinical Evaluators Panel, which received responses from 369 dentists. The survey found that 53% of dentists are now using IOSs, and more than half of the respondents who are using IOSs started using the technology within the last four years.1

IOSs work by digitally capturing 3D images of intraoral hard and soft tissue. The images are then used to create 3D models. These digital scans and models are replacing the need for molds for many procedures that had previously required physical impressions. Some of the work being done with IOSs includes inlays, onlays, crowns, fixed partial dentures, occlusal devices and implant surgical guides.1

IOSs have many benefits for dental practices, according to a survey of literature that looked at 132 scientific papers published about the technology from January 2007 to July 2017.2 They were found to reduce patient discomfort, simplify clinical procedures for dentists and create accurate measurements.

“Digital dentistry is not a hype thing anymore,” said Ahmad Al-Hassiny, BDS, director of the Institute of Digital Dentistry. “It’s no longer a niche part of the market. This is where most dental companies and all the big industries are pouring millions of dollars into developing. Anyone who is thinking of staying in dentistry for the next five to 10 years has to get out of their comfort zone and invest. Don’t fall behind. It’s accepting the inevitable future of the profession.”

Finding the Best Value for Your Practice

IOSs have been falling in price in recent years. Al-Hassiny has personally tested a large segment of the market and says some can be purchased for as low as $9,000, but they are limited in their applications and software design. These lower-priced devices seem to fit emerging markets more than developed ones like the United States. The average range in price is $20,000–$30,000, with some costing more than $50,000.

“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” said Neil I. Park, DMD, vice president of Clinical Affairs for Glidewell. “While the market is not crowded, there are new entrants with relatively untested technology and, on occasion, exaggerated claims. While it’s smart not to overspend, it’s never fun to be on the bleeding edge of a new market entrant.”

The Institute of Digital Dentistry and Al-Hassiny have created a pricing guide for dentists interested in buying an IOS. According to the website, it is “a complete price guide for all mainstream scanners.” Al-Hassiny recommends that dentists first identify their needs and what they would use an IOS for before finding the right fit for their practice. Think about what workflow you want to achieve.

“What do you want a scanner for? That’s the first question. Then figure out what options will allow you to achieve that,” Al-Hassiny said. “Often what you’ll find is that the more you spend, the better software you get.” Al-Hassiny added that some scanners are better suited for Invisalign, while other models may be better utilized for same-day crowns.

Park says to expect regular fees in addition to the cost of the scanner itself. “Typically, there will be fees associated with scanner maintenance and software licensing, which may be billed monthly or on an annual basis,” he said.

Other costs to anticipate are scanner tips, which range between $20 and $150 and have a certain number of autoclave cycles they can undergo before needing to be replaced, according to Al-Hassiny.

The best way to get the most value out of the scanner? “Use it,” said Park. “Fully integrate scanning into your workflow, scanning every patient and using the scanner as part of both case diagnosis and patient education. Additionally, understand how scanning can both improve office workflow and enhance communication with the lab or labs while reducing turnaround time.”

Working With Your Dental Team

One positive aspect noted in medical literature about using IOSs is improved communication between dentists and dental technicians. A 2017 survey found “immediately after the scan has been performed, the dentist can email it to the laboratory, and the technician can check it accurately. If the dental technician is not convinced of the quality of the received optical impression, he/she can immediately request that the clinician make another one without any loss of time and without having to call the patient for a second appointment.”2

A recommended way of understanding the realities of IOSs and how they are being used is to gauge feedback from the entire team. George A. Mandelaris, DDS, MS, FACD, FICD, wrote in a 2019 Dental Economics article, “When investing in new technology, it’s always good practice to take your staff’s feedback into consideration. After all, they’ll most likely have their hands on it the most.”3

Education for Using Intraoral Scanners

Training and education in using IOSs can be done by manufacturers, according to Park. There are also educational companies that teach courses. Park works for Glidewell, a company that offers both educational opportunities for clinicians as well as restorative and preventive solutions. The Institute of Digital Dentistry, which Al-Hassiny founded, specializes in educational opportunities for dentists learning about digital dentistry.

“A lot of the lecturing can be done online, which is much more convenient and accessible to a large group of people. You can pause and rewind,” said Al-Hassiny, whose organization has over 30,000 subscribers. “Although nothing beats hands-on training, we can reach so many more people online and provide great learning experiences.”

Many hands-on training opportunities can come from individual manufacturers. Al-Hassiny estimates it takes about one to two months, at a couple hours per day practicing, before dentists become comfortable with the devices. He recommends practicing on colleagues in the office and/or on family until you feel proficient enough with the scanning process.

Key Features

Three key features to look for are scanning speed, resolution and size, according to Park. Scanning speed is becoming less of a differentiating factor, as the technological advancement has plateaued. Scanning resolution is important, as it determines how clean and detailed the image is. Scanner size and ergonomics translates to “ease of use and comfort for both user and patient,” said Park. “Scanners do vary in size and weight, which may influence preferences for a particular model.”

“You have to be cautious with what companies claim,” said Al-Hassiny. “Everyone can make a pretty brochure or a nice marketing video, but I recommend to just go try them out.” He recommends that interested dentists should try the scanners out at the next conference they attend and bring a model with them to practice on. “Don’t get overwhelmed. It’s basically like choosing a smartphone — they have different user interfaces, but the steps are virtually the same, the process is the same, and how you scan is nine times out of 10 the same. If you learn on one scanner, you can use them all. Don’t get too intimated by all the marketing promotions.”

The key differentiator now is software, application and workflows, according to Al-Hassiny. Some devices have more file export options than others; others have the capacity to handle more specialized operations.

In addition to key features, service and repairs are also important to keep in mind. “All systems may experience hardware (most frequently calibration) and/or software issues,” said Park. “It is important to understand who is servicing your equipment and the customer support available when assistance is required.”

As a growing number of dentists are now incorporating IOSs into their practices, the hardware, software and workflows have all evolved to give dentists a multitude of options to find the best fit. While there is a learning curve to using the devices, virtual and in-person educational opportunities are available for dentists who want to learn more and get experience. There has never been a better time regarding technological evolution, scanner options and industry support for dentists who want to try using an IOS.

Dan Kolen is a freelance writer and media producer based in Chicago. To comment on this article, email impact@agd.org.


1. Revilla-Leon, Marta et al, “Intraoral Scanners: An American Dental Association Clinical Evaluators Panel Survey,” The Journal of the American Dental Association, vol 152, no 8, August 2021, pp 669-670.
2. Mangano, Fransesco et al. “Intraoral Scanners in Dentistry: A Review of the Current Literature.” BMC Oral Health, vol. 17, no. 149, December 2017, p 149.
3. Mandelaris, George. “Things no one tells you before you buy an intraoral scanner.” Dental Economics, June 1, 2019, dentaleconomics.com/science-tech/article/14035697/things-no-one-tells-you-before-you-buy-an-intraoral-scanner. Accessed 11 March 2022.