In this introductory article, we begin our digital journey!! Seemingly, dentists and laboratory technicians have been relegated to two options for getting into digital dentistry… 1) Buying the whole thing with 3Shape/Exocad/DentalWings software or 2) having to figure out things on our own with open-source software. Chances are you happened upon this site because you want to avoid 1 and 2!
Digital dentistry is seemingly quite complex and challenging and many of feel that going with option 1 is the only viable option for working with digital dentistry. Yes, these software packages are quite powerful and I do use 3Shape Dental Systems software within my practice, it is also a substantial financial investment of several thousands of dollars to purchase. In addition, many of these software packages require yearly financial renewal commitments to continue using the software. I find 3Shape software to be essential to laboratory technicians and clinicians that want to do little outside of the box concepts and want a proven system, from click 1 to click 10, generating dental models, wax-ups, crowns & bridge die models for easy integration into clinical practice.
Open-source computer aided design (CAD) software is a seemingly much more complex task than using dental specific software, like 3Shape. In fact, I have been using free, open software for over 3 years now and I am blown away by how much can be done with free software! Things like digital wax-ups, building bleaching trays, orthodontic aligners, and occlusal guards are all possible using non-dental specific CAD software.
The free/open-source CAD software I like to work with are the following:
Meshmixer is a CAD “clay-modeling” software that allows the user to easily import multiple files, manipulate them, and easily export STL files ready for 3D printing. Meshmixer allows you to virtually wax-up and manipulate surface of the 3D model. Finally, it is a software package that has tremendous amount of online forums to help with techniques.
Blender is the ultimate open source CAD program on the planet. It is so incredibly powerful, it’s like Adobe Photoshop® for 3D images. Now that being said, it’s also an incredibly complex program, so I don’t advise you get started with Blender right away. Start with Mesmixer and then go from there. If you are a real computer whiz and want to play, go with Blender.
Keep in mind it didn’t start easy in the early days… there wasn’t a manual, nor were there online resources like this digital article. In fact, early on, it took me almost 2 months of working with the software to figure out just how to put a base on a dental model!! Now that being said, I have it figured out these days for my routine workflows and find it incredibly easy to work with. In fact, it is much faster for me to do routine tasks like forming bases and digital wax-ups with open-source CAD software than dental specific software.
Hard to believe? I know it sounds like it, but try it out for yourself, check out this video I have posted describing how to download the software and put it on your computer!