When 3D printing solutions were first introduced to the dental industry, the high cost and large size prevented the accessibility of 3D printing machines for most dental practices and laboratories. Now, 3D printers are far more compact and affordable than they were twenty years ago, making them more viable for private practices and labs. 3D printing has been leading advancements in dental technology. Dental industry professionals can benefit from integrating 3D printing solutions into their workflows. The faster turnaround time for oral devices and increased accuracy of dental models helped the clear aligner industry reach a 2.41 billion dollar market size in 2020.
The Progress of 3D Printing in Dentistry:
Additive manufacturing has existed since the 1980s when 3D printers were used for rapid prototyping and has transformed the dental industry since its introduction in the 1990s. Dentists using 3D printers in conjunction with digital oral scanners or impressions found they could produce dental devices with more precision, less waste, and faster than CNC milling.
An early dental application for 3D printing was making molds for thermoforming. Initially, 3D printed products needed significant post-processing steps and supported a limited number of materials. Now, a combination of next-generation hardware, software, and materials is enabling direct printing of products with better materials and finishes that require minimal to no post-processing. With these advancements, 3D printing solutions are commonly used in the dental industry to produce:
- Removable oral devices, including clear aligners, retainers, and nightguards.
- Restorative dental treatments, including crowns, bridges, denture bases, and implants.
- Surgical instruments, including try-ins and surgical guides.
- Dental models, for either thermoforming or as diagnostic aids for cosmetic dentistry procedures, orthodontic treatment, or oral surgery.
- Dentists, orthodontists, and dental labs incorporating 3D printers into their operations experience four significant advantages.
Advantages of 3D Printing in Dentistry:
There are many options for dental 3D printers, including cost-effective desktop models and industrial high-throughput machines. They produce the same products and differ on the speed of operation and required level of post-processing. Dental professionals should find a solution that best meets their facility’s needs. Considering the production volume, ease-of-use, supporting materials, and post-processing requirements are essential to maximizing benefits.
1: Better Fit for The Patient:
Oral devices require patient-specific customization to operate correctly. 3D printers can create intricate structures and allow for greater geometric complexity without sacrificing production time. As 3D-printed oral devices are more customizable, they are more accurate and better fit the patient without requiring extensive trimming and polishing.
2: Simplified Production Processes:
Dentistry has long embraced digital manufacturing technologies to simplify production processes and workflows. Early developments with intraoral scanners allowed dentists to make and send oral impressions to a dental lab within minutes. Devices are fabricated either through the creation of a dental model for thermoforming or through milling. The final product is shipped back to the practice within a week or two.
Today’s 3D printers eliminate thermoforming. Clear aligners, retainers, nightguards, and other devices are directly 3D printed with minimal post-production. Dentists and lab technicians save time, labor, and material by eliminating models, thermoforming, and product trimming.
3: In-Office Printing:
With affordable prices and more compact sizes of 3D printers, they are an accessible option for many dental practices. Dentists that integrate the 3D printing machines into their operations gain better control over workflow and minimize product turnaround time. Creating oral devices in-house saves money on lab fees and shipping costs while also enabling same-day patient services for specific devices.
4: One Machine, Multiple Products:
Advancements in additive manufacturing technology have not only improved printer size, capabilities, and affordability but also a range of printable materials. Many dental resins available on the market today are developed for specific applications. Leading 3D-printable materials are more robust than their traditional counterparts while still maintaining biocompatibility. On the same machine, different materials can easily be printed, requiring either a quick wipe down or simple swapping of tanks.
The versatility of 3D printing software, hardware, and support materials allows dentists to create various products, all from one machine. 3D printing solutions create more accurate oral devices with a broader range of materials and are faster than conventional methods. Innovations in 3D printing technology have enabled the direct printing of products without the need for extensive post-processing steps, shortening product turnaround time. Dentists that incorporate 3D printers into their facility gain total control over their workflow and can offer same-day services to their patients.