3D printing has been successfully used to fabricate small and precise parts for orthodontists and dentists. Introduction to this medical field provides a gateway technology with much future promise to change the time, capability, and cost of oral health and find solutions that are self-sufficient and effective.
Everyone has different teeth. 3D printing has made great strides in assisting dentists and orthodontists in numerous ways. Not only does the technology benefit them in making models and surgical aids, but it helps fabricate many products such as clear aligners and other dental products such as crowns and implants which must be custom fabricated to the unique qualities of an individual’s oral profile.
Read how the Stratasys J720 Dental Printer has helped maximize productivity for dental practices -- while increasing patient satisfaction!
Because all teeth are unique, different orthotics are required for different persons. Braces, for example, are commonly prescribed for younger persons whose teeth are developing. Braces, however, have undergone a transformation with the rise of 3D printing to create braces and other dental devices that match the needs of the unique maxillofacial shape and contour of one's teeth and jaw.
High Growth 3D Printing for Dentistry
According to the researcher, Technavio, the global market for 3D printing dental devices will grow by $667M by 2023 at a rate of about 20% per year. This is a healthy growth rate and welcomes the use of any technology to help it grow.
Lightforce, for example, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, offers 3D printing technology to help fabricate custom braces for orthodontists. Using their technology and software, each bracket of the brace is dynamically designed, in real time, for a unique maxillofacial profile. It is based on the patient’s specific tooth morphology.
This combines with the orthodontist, dentist, or other professionals' specific clinical treatment and plan for a patient.
It begins with an orthodontist setting the teeth to a specific design or scan of the teeth digitally. Software enables this by creating an optimal biomechanical design prescribed for the specific tooth morphology and maxillofacial characteristics of the patient. This generates a design that may be fed into a 3D printer, with proper materials, to create the proper brace.
“The limitations of one-size-fits-all prescriptions are now gone,” said Dr. Alfred Charles Griffin III, CEO and founder of LightForce. “By enabling orthodontists to design brackets on a case specific basis we give them full control over their most fundamental treatment tool. This kind of flexibility has never been feasible with traditional bracket manufacturing methods.”
Many Dental Applications
3D printer manufacturers are creating printers with this specific market niche in mind. In 2017, Stratasys introduced a 3D printer for dental applications. The Stratasys J700 Dental 3D Printer is specifically designed for orthodontic labs to fabricate to a scale that meets the demand put upon today's clinical dental environment.
This arose in tandem with the dental community - who Stratasys characterizes as one of the "fastest adopters of 3D printing technology." While 3D printers have been useful to create orthodontics, they've also been quite instrumental in fabricating digital dental models customized to a specific tooth morphology; in some cases, the scan can also be used to create molds within the confines of the dental office itself. It's a win-win for dentists, patients, and all involved.
There are numerous other applications for 3D printing in dentistry, including the fabrication of nighttime retainers, crowns and implants, and aids that assist dentists and orthodontists in surgical and other dental procedures.
The future of 3D printing and additive manufacturing for the dental and orthodontic sectors is bright: dentists are buying printers for their practices and putting them to use, or the labs they use are using them. The net effect of additive manufacturing for dentistry is a more precise and accurate dental product that greatly benefits patients.
DynaFlex, located in St. Ann, Missouri uses additive manufacturing to fabricate clear aligners. Clear aligners are fabricated from invisible polyurethane plastic without being bonded to the teeth. They're completely removable and worn partially throughout the day for orthodontic purposes and can be removed when the patient chooses not to have them in their mouth – for social reasons or for brushing and flossing. DynaFlex sees them as a lucrative and high-growth segment of the dental market and is using 3D printing to fabricate them in volume, printing nearly 1000 per day.
As 3D printing and additive manufacturing progress, so will medical applications such as those used by the dental and orthodontics profession. 3D scanning and fabrication, perhaps, have, and will continue to transform the technology, perhaps like no other time in the history of dentistry.