MUNSTER | A machine in a back hallway at Compton Dental Center resembles the novelty vending machines that spit out hot plastic figures in zoos and museums. But the end product is a bit more practical.
In less than 15 minutes, it can make a crown for a tooth.
Longtime region dentist Eric Compton jokes he doesn't have a fancy car. Instead, he buys cool dental equipment.
The office uses 3-D technology regularly.
"Digital dentistry is growing rapidly," Compton said.
The most recent advance is an upgrade that can create dental restorations, such as crowns, veneers, onlays and inlays, in a day, using the Sirona CEREC, which stands for Chairside Economical Restoration of Esthetic Ceramics.
The Sirona sales representative said less than 1 percent of dental offices in the United States use that equipment, office manager Nancy Bilbruck said.
A dental professional uses a wand-shaped camera to record images of the patient's tooth that needs treatment. The images transfer to software that considers a host of factors, such as bite, and displays the tooth and surrounding area on a computer screen. The dental worker manipulates the screen to outline the area that needs restoration.
"We create a digital virtual mold," Compton said.
A material is chosen, and the design is sent electronically to the milling machine in the back of the office.
A cube of material – usually porcelain – is inserted into the machine, which lights up purple and sprays water on the cube as two drills chisel the block into the shape designed earlier on the computer screen. When it is ready, it is adhered to a patient's tooth.
The full process can take up to two hours, Compton said.
"We can now produce a crown or cap in one appointment," he said. "I can fix it that same day."
The office makes two or three dental restorations a day, on average.