3D Printing in Dentistry: Why Your Next Tooth Could be Printed
3D printing has become synonymous with a somewhat farfetched future of digitization. Most of us have encountered this form of technology in fairly remedial circumstances – maybe we’ve witnessed the printing of a block or a toy, or seen videos of it online. It can feel a bit like a lost remnant of the Star Trek universe.
As it turns out, 3D printing technology isn’t especially new. We’ve been developing printing tech like this since the 1980s and 1990s, but it’s only in the last few years that we started to use them regularly. But how useful are 3D printers when it comes to everyday life?
As it turns out, 3D printers are making a tremendous splash in dentistry.
The biggest benefit of 3D printing in dentistry comes in the form of implants. In the past, dentists attempted to perform implants freehand. They could do this well enough, but there’s a certain level of human error they had to account for. Most dentists performing an implant without a guide tended to place implants an average of 2 to 2.5 mm off the target. It sounds like a pretty small margin, but that little misplacement can cause problems later.
Thus, most dentists use surgical “guides” when performing an implant. In the past, this has involved taking a physical or digital impression of the teeth. This is sent off to a dental lab which will fabricate the implants. Not only is this highly time-consuming (it takes up to several weeks), it’s also massively expensive. On the patient’s end, up to $275… or more.
With a 3D printer, however, a dentist can print his or her own surgical guides.
Purchasing a 3D printer for an office can also be a considerable investment. Most run up to $50,000. This just isn’t affordable for the bulk of small practices. Instead, smaller offices turn to desktop printers. It’s easier, quicker, and far less expensive.
Let’s take a step back here and break down the two primary types of 3D printing available to dentists.
Extrusion Model Printers
Extrusion model printers heat a plastic thread and extrude it through a nozzle to create the object layer by layer. The result of this process tends to lack finish and requires a bit of fine-tuning and added detail before it gets to the patient.
Yup, it’s a mouthful. SLA printers use heated photosensitive resin which is cured with a laser. This resin is transformed from a liquid to a solid. This process is highly precise, using computer-controlled laser technology that follows the detail of the design. Resins can also be specified with different functions, such as extra durability, extra flexibility, or biocompatibility. It’s up to the needs of the dentist and patient.
SLA printers used to be the most expensive option (like we said, about $50,000). The only dentists who could really afford it were large-scale corporate dentists. Even the materials ran between $50 and $100. Nowadays, the costs have lowered substantially. A dentist can get a 3D SLA printer in their office for about $3,500, and materials fall between $20 and $30.
The cost of the printer itself can basically be paid off for the dentist in about 20 implant surgeries.
The accessibility has completely democratized 3D printing technology for dentists. Due to the low cost of production, dentists can actually print multiple versions of the same implant with slight variations. This gives them some choices during the surgery.
On the patient’s end, the greatest benefit (besides the financial element) comes in the time saved. What used to take weeks can now be done in a single office visit. The computer calibrates itself, and a surgical model can be ready in a matter of hours.
Accessibility like this really couldn’t have come any sooner. Every year, American dentists perform upwards of 9 million implant surgeries. According to the American Academy of Implant Dentistry, the dental implant and prosthetic market is projected to reach $6.8 billion by 2018 as more Americans choose implants over crowns or bridges.
Basically, American dentists needed a cheaper and faster way to perform implants. They found their solution in 3D printing.
The future of 3D printing in dentistry looks bright as well. Just this last week, the FDA approved a new form of technology that can print full dentures in a variety of colors. In the not-so-distant future, 3D printers will be capable of printing final dental restorations.
No more dental labs, no more scheduling multiple appointments, no more shocking bills. This could mean comprehensive dental healthcare for more Americans.
At Paradigm Dental, we’re always looking towards the future of dental technology. We’re excited about a healthcare system that’s accessible to more patients. Because we believe your time is valuable, we offer similar devices that produce same-day crowns in our own office. We have chosen to bring cutting edge tech into our office, such as the Solea Laser, that we believe will change the face of American dentistry.