Your Mouth In 3-D: How Three-Dimensional Printing Saves Time And Money At The Dentist’s Office

3-D printing – it's a trending topic grabbing spotlights in the news and online. While most of the articles have discussed the entrepreneurs, inventors, and companies buying the software to create products, there's another field that's going relatively unmentioned — dentistry. 

What is 3-D Printing?

In case you've just recently heard of 3-D printing, 3-D printing is the process of making three-dimensional objects through an additive process. Designers use Computer Aided Design (CAD) software to design and create an item they wanted printed in 3-D. The program translates the concept into instructions and sends them to the computer. Once received, the printer starts creating the object one layer at a time.

Current 3-D modeling uses a subtractive process, which begins with a solid shape of material and removes it until the object is formed.

How Would it Benefit Dentistry?

Considering the size of the human mouth and teeth, dentists need precision accuracy when practicing. 3-D printing provides the production of more accurate and complex materials. It also cuts down on the waste product from current molding processes and uses different materials.

Current denture procedures require several trips to the dentist. Different molds are cast and, depending on the step in the process, different materials are used. When done, the total process consumes nearly 8 weeks. 3-D printing shortens this process to as little as a day and reduces to one-tenth the original expense. Furthermore, because molds are often kept on file, replacement parts can be made and affixed within a couple hours.

Where Would It Be Used?

Some programs use rendering software to examine a structure by laser. This image is then replicated identically on the computer and is immediately ready for printing.

3-D printing could replace almost any application or device currently manufactured by dental labs. Dentists could manufacture dentures, braces, crowns, veneers, gums, and single teeth at their office. Another remarkable idea is that current 3-D printers are already pumping out toothbrushes that brush teeth in only 6 seconds.

What are the Limitations of 3-D Printing?

So far, only 1 in 10 dentist offices offer 3-D printing services. Some of the systems come with price tags of upwards of $100,000. As with any craft, 3-D dentistry requires training. However, many newer practices are installing the machines, and recent dentistry graduates have experience using them.

Further limitations include the inability for lasers to scan anything below the gum line. Despite the amazing detail at which lasers examine surfaces, dental labs will still be needed for those molds. To learn more, try contacting a company like Wright Center For Orthodontics with any questions you have.