3D printing has been the subject of much interest in the technology industry over the past few years. While 3D printers may not have numerous consumer uses as of yet, they have a variety of uses in the business, medical, and even dental fields. As a result, 3D printed dentures, bridges, braces, and even teeth are quickly becoming a reality.
3D Printing Dental Models
3D dental printing has already grown in popularity for the construction of dental models for the purpose of creating bridges, crowns, dentures, and implants. Rather than enduring the unpleasant process of a dentist taking a dental impression and creating a plaster casting from this mold, your dentist now can digitally scan your mouth and print a casting through a software program called AutoCAD. The dentist can then use this casting to test crowns, bridges, braces, and retainers without requiring you to make repeated trips to the dentist for fittings.
3-D Printed Braces
“3D printed braces” is, in a sense, a misnomer, as no braces themselves are constructed with a 3D printer. However, the molds that are used to thermoform1 removable clear aligners (think Invisalign “braces”) are constructed using these printers in a similar process described above. These “braces” have a number of benefits over traditional metal braces, including removability and hypoallergenic qualities for those that have metal sensitivities or allergies.
3D Printed Dental Bridges and 3D Printed Dentures
Traditionally, getting a bridge or dentures takes time. You must wait for your dentures to be made, and in the meantime, you have a hole or holes in your smile or temporary dentures, neither of which are comfortable or confidence-inducing. With 3D printing technology, dentists can scan your mouth in minutes, create the pattern on a computer (perhaps with a few adjustments), and start printing your bridge or denture right away. While this process used to take weeks, with 3D printing of dental bridges and dentures, it can potentially take less than a day, perhaps even less than an hour.
3D Printed Crowns and 3D Printed Teeth
Much like with bridges or dentures, the procedure for the installation of a dental crown previously required at least two dental visits, a few weeks apart. With 3D printed crowns, this can be done in about an hour. After the initial scans of your mouth, the dental crown is sculpted from dental composite in a 3D dental printer based on the design sent from the AutoCAD program on the computer. 3D printed teeth are made in a very similar way, except instead of creating a cap for a tooth, the whole tooth implant is sculpted from dental composite.
What’s more, some studies suggest that 3D printed teeth and implants can be made with antimicrobial properties. In other words, these teeth could potentially kill germs. The teeth are made with positively charged salts in dental polymers (plastics), which react with and kill negatively charged bacteria, such as the bacteria responsible for tooth decay. In a lab study, this material killed 99 percent of the bacteria, whereas the control group didn’t even kill one percent of the bacteria2.
3D Printing and Dentistry: A Match Made in Heaven?
The rate at which 3D dental printing is accelerating and improving dental processes suggests that we will likely see more and more 3D printing in dentistry in the coming years. However, there are some concerns regarding materials, costs, and testing that need to be addressed before 3D printing can be fully integrated into the dental industry. Despite this, innovations in the field of 3D dental printing may create new ways for this technology to improve the speed, accuracy, and efficiency of dental work and the dental industry as a whole.
1 A process of laying down hot, malleable plastic over a mold and vacuum-forming the plastic over the mold to create the desired shape.
2 Basulto, Dominic. “How Bacteria-Fighting 3-D-Printed Teeth Could Affect Dentistry.” The Washington Post. Retrieved fromwww.washingtonpost.com/news/innovations/wp/2015/10/20/how-bacteria-fighting-3d-printed-teeth-could-impact-dentistry/ on May 25, 2016.