Dental 3D Printing Sinks Its Teeth into Dentistry
A dentist’s job requires many different kinds of appliances, from implants to prosthetics, guides, retainers, and physical models. Dental 3D printing is a quickly advancing technology that’s revolutionising the dental industry. Traditional methods to create these tools — such as …
A dentist’s job requires many different kinds of appliances, from implants to prosthetics, guides, retainers, and physical models. Dental 3D printing is a quickly advancing technology that’s revolutionising the dental industry.
Traditional methods to create these tools — such as plaster models — are slow and potentially very expensive. They aren’t ideal solutions, but for a long time they were the only available ones. A dental 3D printer, like Formlabs Form 3B, can significantly improve the process of creating these tools, benefiting both the dentist and the patient.
Here we’ll explain what 3D printing for dentistry is and what its benefits are. We’ll also explore how dentists use 3D printers and where the technology is heading.
How Dental 3D Printing Works
Not all of the myriad 3D printing technologies available today are suitable for dental 3D printing. Dental applications require a certain level of accuracy and material properties, which disqualify some types of 3D printers. The most common technologies dentists use are SLA, SLS, metal 3D printing, and FFF.
SLA printers, such as the aforementioned Formlabs Form 3B, use a high-powered laser to cure liquid light-cured resins into solid objects. The printers lower the print platform into the resin and slowly raise it up as the material hardens. As a result, the final print ends up upside down.
SLA is the most common 3D printing technology in dentistry. It can print with biocompatible resins and produce the finest details out of nearly any 3D printing technology. However, it is rather slow with large prints, and the printed parts require extensive post-processing, including cleaning, removing supports, and UV curing.
Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
SLS 3D printers — like Formlabs Fuse 1 — also use lasers. Instead of resin, however, they harden a material powder into a solid form. The powders are usually Nylon, but they could also be metal-nylon fixtures.
SLS machines are generally large, and as such they’re best suited for mass production of crowns, prosthetics, or other dental implements that need to be tough and wear-resistant. Another advantage of SLS is that it doesn’t require supports, as the powdered material supports parts in the print chamber. This technology also requires post-processing to clean the powder, which can pose a health hazard in some cases.
Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF)
FFF, also known by the proprietary named Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM), is the most common 3D printing technology in the world. As such, it’s no wonder that it has found its way into dental 3D printing as well. FFF printers, such as Ultimaker S5, build objects by depositing melted thermoplastic filament onto the print bed layer by layer.
While it is common, FFF isn’t a dental 3D printing technology per se. It can be used to produce, for example, scaffolds from biocompatible plastics, but the accuracy and available materials aren’t suitable for trays or crown. However, FFF can still create things like rough anatomical models or hooks and fixtures for the dentist’s office.
Benefits of Dentist 3D Printing
But why should dentists swap to this new technology if they’ve worked with traditional methods up to this point? To be blunt, dental 3D printing is simply a better option for multiple reasons.
- Cost Savings: Dental 3D printing saves money for both the dentist and the patient. Running a dental lab can easily cost more than £75,000 a year, while you can get a professional-quality dental SLA printer for around £4,000. These savings can be passed on to patients, who can get — for example — crowns for 80% cheaper.
- Time Savings: Designing and making dental tools traditionally is a slow and laborious process. A dental 3D printer, on the other hand, can build splints, crowns, or trays in a matter of hours.
- Improved Accuracy: Manually manufacturing anything can introduce inconsistencies, simply due to human error. Not so with 3D printing — dental 3D printers can create extremely accurate objects with reliable repetition. Additionally, using dental 3D scanners makes it easy to get accurate digital representations of your patient’s jaws and teeth.
- Customizability: Since dental 3D printing is a digital technology, it’s very easy to edit and customize the 3D models before printing. If an implant, for example, doesn’t fit for some reason, you can quickly modify it and print it again without hassle.
Materials for Dental 3D Printers
Your materials library depends on the machine you use, but with any of them you will still be spoiled for options. Note, however, that in most jurisdictions, all medical materials must be approved by the authorities, so it’s best to work with a company with a dedicated line of dental 3D printers to ensure material legality.
Some dental 3D printing materials include:
- Resins: For SLA printers, there are many dental resins on the market. Just to name a few, there are dedicated resins for dental models, dentures, transparent trays, and surgical guides.
- Powders: Many metal-nylon powders are available for SLS printers, including titanium and its alloys, cobalt chrome, steel, and even gold. Other options are ceramic powders and PEEK thermoplastic, which can produce durable, bio-safe implants.
- Thermoplastics: 3D printers can print with many medical-grade plastics, which make it possible to create tools and appliances that are safe for dentists to use. Furthermore, if you’re simply printing anatomical models, you won’t have to worry about the plastic’s biocompatibility.
Dental 3D Printing Applications
3D printing in dentistry is suitable for creating practically any dental appliances. Dentists around the world have realised this and are using dental 3D printing for a great variety of applications. Let’s explore some of them.
Anatomical modelling is one of the earliest uses of 3D printing in the medical industry. Dentists can scan the patient’s jaws and 3D print an accurate model for study before making a diagnosis and performing surgery. This is particularly valuable when the patient has suffered extensive injuries or has an unusual anatomy.
Retainers, Aligners, and Guards
Transparent resins make it possible to use dental 3D printing to create practically invisible retainers, aligners, and guards. Thanks to the technology’s accuracy, dentists can make sure these appliances fit as well as possible to minimize discomfort and un-aesthetic appearance.
High-resolution dental 3D printers and materials allow dentists to create accurate drilling guides when preparing for dental surgery. You can print a guide that fits perfectly onto the patient’s anatomy to make surgical operations faster and to reduce the change for errors.
With dental 3D printing, you can manufacture an exact replica of the patient’s missing tooth for a new implant. 3D printers make it possible to create extremely complex geometries, like bone-like morphologies, that traditional manufacturing can’t produces. Advanced technologies and materials are also opening new doors in the area, such as anti-bacterial tooth implants.
Materials like IBT Resin let you create bond trays to hold the patient’s new braces in place while they adhere to their teeth. 3D printed bond trays reduce human error and work faster, meaning less waiting time for the dentist and patient.
3D printed dentures are faster and cheaper to manufacture than traditional ones. They can also be made to be more accurate, which improves their durability and longevity. The higher accuracy also results in more realistic dentures, which is something patients will definitely appreciate.
Do you need a new hook for hanging up your drill or a customized tray for other tools? Simply 3D print it. Dental and traditional 3D printers make it easy for you to customize your dental tools to your liking.
Future Prospects of Dental 3D Printing
Dental 3D printing is an up-and-coming technology. Although it has already produced great successes, future technological advancements are set to make it even more significant.
New biocompatible materials will make it even easier to create customized, high-quality appliances and implants. Meanwhile, advancements in dental 3D printer technology will not only make printing faster, but also expand the range of applications with ever more accurate and durable prints.
“3D printers are now affordable and within reach of all clinicians. The great advantage of this is that the clinician can access specialists from around the world but still manufacture the specific appliance for their patient locally,” said George Cabanas, director of Digital Smile Design.
“In the end, 3D printers in the office are a sign that the clinician is willing to invest in their practice and their patients by using the best tools possible.”