3D Printing in Dentistry

What is 3D printing?
Most of us would have heard about 3D printing which is becoming the talk of the town in recent times. But what exactly is 3D printing? Many of us have wondered about this especially when one hears about people 3D printing whole houses, guns and even artificial limbs. To put it in simple words 3D printing is all about printing a digital file into a 3 dimensional physical solid object. It is creating a revolution in the manufacturing industry because you can now make complex shapes with little material as compared to the traditional methods of manufacturing. It allows you to make virtually anything simply by creating a computer file. All one needs is a 3D model to start with. A 3D model can be made or downloaded from 3D library available on the internet. This model is then exported as a printable file on the computer where it is made to undergo a process called as slicing. Slicing is nothing but cutting the 3D model into layers which can then be fed into the printer using a USB or Wi Fi.

History of 3D printing and its uses in different industries
Japanese inventor Hideo Kodama is known to be the first person to have created a solid object using ultraviolet rays in the year 1981. 3D printing has come a long way since then. 3D printing is being extensively used in various industries like

  • Automotive Industry – has been using this technology for a long time for printing of spare parts, tools and fixtures. Enthusiasts are using 3D printing for restoring old cars.
  • Aviation Industry – GE Aviation has printed a huge number of cobalt-chrome fuel nozzles for its aircraft engines. A number of other parts are also being 3D printed.
  • Construction Industry – 3D printing is being used to create whole houses nowadays which are commercially available.
  • Consumer Products – Products like footwear, eyewear and even jewelry is being 3D printed. Adidas has a full range of shoes with 3D printed mid soles. 3D printing is being used to produce high quality custom made lenses.
  • Healthcare – 3D printing is being extensively used in the dental industry (which we will explore below) as well as attempts are being made to use this tech to make body parts. This field of research is known as bio-printing.
  • Other than above this state of the art tech is being used in the food and education sectors also.

    3D Printing in Dentistry
    3D printing was first used medically in the 90s for producing dental implants and custom made prosthetics. In 2008 scientists were able to produce a 3D prosthetic leg and in 2012 a company in Holland produced a 3D printed jaw. Now 3D printers have become very common place and even inexpensive. The dental 3D printing market is expected to reach $930m by the end of 2025, and its application across different procedures is expected to have a far-reaching impact on dentistry and the lives of common people.

Uses of 3D printing in dentistry
Dentists across the world are using the 3D printing technology for –

  • Creating orthodontic medical models which are used to scan teeth and design braces and aligners like Invisalign. No more biting into the gooey stuff to get your custom made aligners made.
  • 3D printing is being now used to prepare crowns, dentures, dental bridges and dental caps and all kinds of dental implants.
  • 3D printing is also being used to repair damaged teeth. Dentists have to simply scan the mouth of the patient using a wand to create a 3D image and then proceed to digitally design the repair and print the same.
  • Dentists use what is known as a drill guide to prepare implant sites and place implants. These drill guides are also being 3D printed now.

    Benefits of 3D printing in dentistry
    Today, three 3D printing technologies are commonly used in the dental industry. These are –
  • SLA – stereolithography
  • DLP – digital light processing
  • Material jetting.

    All these technologies deliver high quality precision and accuracy to dental applications which was not available before the advent of 3D printing. Dentists have been dependent on labs to make crowns, bridges and other implants for many years. 3D printing changed all that.
  • The biggest advantage for both the dentist as well as the patient is the fine design of 3D printed products. Because the whole process is digital the scanner and printer is able to take into account a detailed blueprint which a manual lab process may miss out on. Result being the patient gets a truly custom made product which is highly accurate giving more comfort.
  • The 3D printer are nowadays available from a few thousand dollars so dentists can easily invest in them saving them lots of money. Normally they would either have to bear the cost of sending all the impressions for dental implants to labs or invest in in-house labs themselves. For newly opened dental practices this can mean better turnover and early break even from business perspective.
  • Any costs that dentists save can also be passed on to the patients finally. So if the dentists can make the crowns, bridges and other implants at a cheaper price it would automatically get reflected in the bill of the patient making dental solutions more accessible and cheaper for more number of people.
  • 3D printers save time and money and can mass produce the end product and this is good news for the companies involved in the manufacturing of medical equipment and dental parts. They are more precise and accurate as compared to traditional ways of manufacturing leaving less or no room for errors.

In the end we can only conclude that 3D printing has revolutionized a number of industries and dental industry is no exception. All dentists must explore 3D printing to make better products for their patients and also reduce the cost burden of running the dental practice on themselves as well as the patients.

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