Dec 4, 2018

Dental 3D Printing – All You Need to Know

One of the many industries that have been heavily influenced by 3D printing is dentistry. Learn how dental workers have found countless applications of the technology and how dental 3D printing has revolutionized the entire field.

Dental 3D Printing A Thriving Industry

Dental 3D printers are incredibly useful and efficient. Source: Stratasys

Over the course of the past decade, the dental industry has been revolutionized by 3D printing technology. Several different applications of 3D printing have been developed, from fixing broken teeth to making flossing easier.

Dental 3D printers need to be very accurate, so the most common technologies used are stereolithography (SLA) and digital light processing (DLP). Depending on the application, different resins are used, and many specialized resins have been created solely for dental 3D printers.

Printing is done both in the dentist’s office and in labs, and it brings a new level of speed and ease to old procedures.

This industry is very new, though already impressively large, and it is constantly growing and developing. There are seemingly infinite ways for dentists to use dental 3D printers, and the future will undoubtedly bring about even more.

Dental 3D Printing Widespread Applications

A surgical guide. Source: Formlabs

Dentists have found countless ways to implement 3D printing into their work, though a few applications, in particular, have become universally popular. These use cases are large improvements upon previous technologies and are currently utilized by many dentists around the world.

Dental 3D Printing Application #1: Night Guards and Aligners

A 3D printed night guard. Source: EnvisionTec

The most common applications of 3D printing in dentistry are transparent aligners and night guards. Aligners, which serve as alternatives to braces, have become especially popular because of their invisibility.

The process starts with the patient’s teeth being scanned by a dentist or orthodontist, who then uses software to generate a 3D model of their teeth. To create an aligner, the model is essentially adjusted towards what the patient’s teeth should become.

To make the model a reality, one of two methods is used. The first is to print the model of the patient’s teeth as-is, in which case a vacuum is used to form a plastic sheet over the model. This later becomes the aligner.

Alternatively, the doctor could use the model of the patient’s teeth to model the aligner itself, which is then printed. Naturally, this would require a very high definition dental 3D printer with a special resin.

The primary benefit of using 3D printing to produce night guards and aligners is speed. It takes just hours to produce a full batch. This technology also makes each product more accurate and custom, as it’s created from precise scans of a patient’s teeth.

This application has been adopted by many labs, companies, and doctors. The company Invisalign is a major producer of 3D printed aligners, though dentists can also print aligners themselves using specialized resins like EnvisionTec’s E-Guard.

Dental 3D Printing Application #2: Crowns

3D printed crowns. Source: DETAXGmbH / YouTube

When you break a tooth, the dentist creates a crown to replace the broken part. The conventional process is incredibly time consuming and expensive — exactly the kind of thing 3D printing is capable of fixing.

Dental 3D printing has made creating crowns incredibly simple. The doctor scans the broken tooth and then uses software to create the model of the crown. They can create it in their office in less than 30 minutes using either a special resin or CNC technology to carve the crown out of porcelain.

This technology reduces the length of the process from several weeks to less than an hour, is much cheaper for both the dentist and the patient, and leaves the patient with an understanding of the power of dental 3D printing.

Dental 3D Printing Application #3: Surgical Guides

Custom 3D printed surgical guides make dental surgeries incredibly precise. Source: Think3D

Oral surgeries need to be very precise, and dental 3D printing has made precision easy. A 3D printed guide designed to fit perfectly in a patient’s mouth is an indispensable asset for a dentist.

They simply scan the patient’s mouth and design a model similar to an aligner, but with openings exactly where surgery is being done.

They can be printed in the same resin as aligners and night guards, and they can be created quickly on any dental 3D printer.

Dental 3D Printing Application #4: Models

3D printed models can help a dentist visualize and test implants. Source: Stratasys

In dentistry, it’s very important to get things right the first time, and dental 3D printers ensure this. Doctors can print a model of the patient’s mouth, and verify that their implant, crown, or aligner will fit with precision.

3D printed dental models are easy to make. They only require a quick scan of the patient’s mouth. Despite this, they can be powerful tools for a dentist because they enable them to check their work before surgically implanting it into a patient.

Because these models aren’t actually placed in any mouths, they don’t require any indispensable technology or resin. Simple yet useful.

Dental 3D Printing The People Involved

Dental 3D printing is a rapidly growing industry that promises success. Because of this, many companies are dedicating themselves to the industry. Some are major suppliers of dental products, while others are researching new uses of 3D printing for the dental industry.

Dental 3D Printing Current Industry Leaders

One of Stratasys' many dental 3D printers. Source: Stratasys

There are currently many large companies contributing to dental 3D printing technology.

Invisalign and Clear Caps are two groups that are working with dental 3D printers to create aligners and night guards. Invisalign has become particularly successful in this, having become a well-known brand.

Other companies, like EnvisionTec, have taken a broader stance on dental 3D printing. They create dental 3D printers, resins, conduct research, and help dentists implement dental 3D printers into their workflow.

In addition to companies devoted to the dental industry, many 3D printer companies have become involved as well. Formlabs produces powerful SLA machines and a wide variety of dental resins, and Stratasys sells specialized industrial dental printers.

Dental 3D Printing New Applications

A 3D printed tooth made of anti-microbial plastic. Source: ResearchCareer.com

While dental 3D printing has already been established as a successful industry, development continues to move forward. New applications are constantly emerging, each hoping to fill a different niche of the industry.

A very promising project from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands is working to create a printable material that would kill bacteria on contact. This would have a huge impact on the dental industry, as aligners, crowns, and implants would be that much more resilient and long-lasting.

Other projects, though not as scientifically involved, show how large the industry has become. This is best showcased by the company Blizzident, which creates custom flossers meant to floss all of your teeth at once.

License: The text of "Dental 3D Printing – All You Need to Know" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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