Guide to Dental 3D Printing

Introduction

The development of dental 3D printing has revolutionized the dental industry. Improvements in 3D printing technology have created fantastic opportunities for dentists to offer faster and higher quality treatments to their patients.

For dental patients, 3D printing offers many benefits that will make their time at their dentist’s office more pleasant. From getting their custom fitted orthotics in hours rather than weeks to innovative products like nearly invisible braces.

3D Printing is Revolutionizing the Dental Industry

From its humble beginnings in the 1990s as a rapid prototyping tool for engineers, 3D printing has come a long way. In fact, it has become a world-leading manufacturing technology used in all industries from architecture to fashion, taking over traditional manufacturing methods like injection molding because of its unbeatable speed and cost benefits.

The dental industry is expected to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of custom 3D printing technologies in the next decade. Already you can walk into your nearest dental office and see the technology in action on custom orthotics.

Also, the incredible improvement in CAD/CAM design software has provided a foundation on which the 3D printing hardware has been built. Combining intuitive and powerful CAD software with the freedom and speed of 3D printing technology gives dentists an unbeatable combination that allows them to offer their clients entirely bespoke services with little waiting.

How does dental 3D printing work?

In Dental 3D printing, there are two leading technologies.

SLA or stereolithography turns the liquid resin into a solid one layer at a time. It uses a laser to pinpoint and shape the material accurately, sketching the outline of the part one layer at a time. SLA printing is highly accurate, achieving tolerances as low as 0.05mm.

DLP or dental light processing uses a digital screen to project a single image of each layer across the entire resin platform. Using a digital display means the representation is made up of square pixels, also known as voxels.

Which Method is Better?

Neither SLA or DLP can be considered better. Instead they each have their strengths. You should choose a dental 3D printer that will meet your needs.

DLP is faster and better for larger volumes as a whole layer is projected and printed at one time.

But, SLA can be more precise and is better for products that require a higher quality finish or need to focus on quality. The use of a laser makes this possible.

What Materials are Used?

Dental 3D printers can print using a range of materials. Currently, resin & wax materials are typically used to create molds that can then cast other traditional dental materials.

Some 3D printer manufacturers make their own materials for dental use that are optimized to work in their 3D printers.

More expensive materials, such as ceramic and metal, are generally used for more intricate products but offer the most benefits in terms of speed over traditional methods.

Why is Dental 3D Printing Becoming so Popular?

It was announced recently that the global 3D printing market is going to reach a value of $9.7 billion by 2025. This is because 3D printing is so far-reaching. As 3D printing technology develops in industries as disparate as car manufacture and sports footwear design, these innovations feed into the 3D printing industry as a whole and benefit everyone using the technology.

In dentistry, 3D printing has been picked up relatively recently as the technology has matured in other industries and become safe and reliable enough to use in healthcare.

Usually, developments in manufacturing technology are subtle and little noticed by customers and patients. A few cents saved from the cost of a brace may be appreciated by a busy dental surgery but will go unnoticed by patients.

3D printing is not just a subtle change, it’s a revolution that can instantly change the timescales and personalization of dental treatment in a way that patients find hard to ignore.

By using 3D printing, dentists have benefitted instantly from its ability to shrink manufacturer lead times down to hours rather than weeks, which is a benefit that customers will notice immediately. Let’s be honest. A trip to the dentist is both expensive and inconvenient.

Have you ever chipped a tooth and need a crown? I remember when it happened to me a few years ago. Treatment is often a long process that takes multiple visits to the dentist.

First, they take a mold of your mouth, then fit something temporary while you wait for the proper crown to be manufactured. In a week or two, you return for a second visit. Then the dentist removes the temporary product and fits the new crown.

Finally, to complement the time you have spent journeying to the dentist, you are handed a bill with an immense price tag!

Not only does dental 3D printing cut your waiting time without reducing the standard of quality, but it is also quickly becoming a cheaper alternative.

As more dentists are using 3D printing technology, the prices are dropping fast.  If you are looking for great value from your dentist, this is fantastic news.

Who are the Major Companies in the Dental 3D Printing Industry?

There is a range of companies producing and supplying dental 3D printers, materials, and services. From small outfits to large multinationals. Here are some of the companies that are offering the most advanced and used products.

Invisalign

Invisalign is probably the most well-known dental brand in the world that is using 3D printing technology. Invisalign focuses on a narrow range of uses, which allows them to perfect the technology.  

They design and produce custom aligners that help correct your teeth alignment without the need for metal braces, their unique product is revolutionary, and they have built their brand around this single product.

EnvisionTEC

EnvisionTEC takes a much more comprehensive approach and is developing 3D Printers that are designed specifically for the dental industry.

They have created devices that allow for exceptionally accurate products to be designed. Their Vida and Vida HD devices allow for the creation of a whole range of products including crowns, bridges, and veneers. EnvisionTEC’s devices are low cost and easy to maintain, which is a large part of their appeal.

They have devices which are suitable for all dental practices, large and small. Importantly, their 3D printing materials are also FDA-approved.

Formlabs

Formlabs are also helping to develop the 3D printing technology that is used in the dental industry. The Form 2 & Form 3 printers are targeted at dentists who are looking for more affordable 3D printer options.

Formlabs wants to make digital dentistry affordable for all dental businesses, regardless of size.

Their Form SLA 3D printers are aimed at various industries, but Formlabs’ makes several proprietary resins explicitly aimed at the dental industry.

Formlabs have developed a complete production cycle for the dental industry with products for each of the four steps in this approach: scan, design, print, and prepare.

What Products can Dental 3D Printers Make?

As technology continues to improve the functions of the printing devices are expanding. They are beginning to meet more and more dental requirements.

Retainers and Night Guards

Currently, one of the main applications of dental 3D printers is the creation of retainers and night guards.

3D scanners scan your teeth, then the dentist, with the aid of intelligent software, can model where he or she wants the teeth to be repositioned too. Retainers can then be printed in FDA approved plastic within a matter of hours.

Because of the lack of waiting time for molds to be made and the much-reduced cost of production, patients can be offered multiple retainers that step towards the desired outcome in gentler steps. This is much more comfortable for the patient.

It is also much easier for the dentist to refine the alignment as it progresses. New retainers can be designed and made in a matter of hours at low cost to improve alignment and patient comfort.

The process of 3D printing dental retainers is incredibly accurate and customized – Invisalign dominates the industry in this category.

Crowns

Traditionally CNC machined from porcelain, 3D printing has drastically reduced the time to create new dental crowns from weeks to hours.

Dental crowns can be 3D printed out of resin, using either the SLA or DLP method.

These methods create sturdy crowns. They can withstand the everyday demands of a tooth, and the crowns are constructed quickly and accurately.

Oral Scanning and Modeling

For dental procedures, it is essential that they are done right the first time, especially for procedures like dental implants.

3D printing has allowed dentists to quickly and easily scan the patient’s mouth to verify that implants will fit and look appropriate.

This fast scanning process replaces the need for the dentist to take molds of the patient’s mouth then send them to the lab and wait for technicians to develop it.

Now you can take a quick scan without the need to waste any resin or other materials. This process is helping to bring the cost down for patient and practitioner.

Comparing Dental 3D Printers

Not all dental 3D printing machines created equally.

Their different capabilities and costs reflect this. There are some aspects of dental 3D printing that must be considered before jumping straight to using it in your business.

Accuracy & Reliability

Dental 3D printers must be accurate. They need to be correct the first time, or the dentist may put their reputation at risk.

The products should also be ready to deliver with minimum post-printing work.

Otherwise, too much time will be spent on modifying the products to be more accurate, which negates the whole purpose of 3D printing.

SLA printers tend to be exceptionally accurate and easily compete with traditional methods for precision. If you opt for a DLP printer, make sure it has an exceptionally high resolution.

Capabilities

If a printer has a very narrow range of uses, then it is going to be very cost inefficient in the long term. It won’t be able to keep up with the changing pace of the industry, unless it is perfect at a specific task.

But, devices with a broad range of capabilities will grow as the dental business does. They are continuing to provide long term returns and helping lower the cost for the customer.

Make sure to research the capabilities of a 3D printer before buying it. Not all can output certified dental products that can be used long term. Lower quality machines can create more work than they save, which end up wasting a lot of time and money.

Support

How many times have you bought a new piece of technology, only to have to dial support because something isn’t working?

It is essential to consider what support a company offers. Can you request support at a moment’s notice? Or do you have to sit in a long queue while your client sits in the chair?

The most crucial aspect of device support is who you will be speaking to.

Is the person a tech guy? Or a dentist?  

Complicated support or lack of can make or break the effectiveness of the printer.

What does the future hold?

As the dental 3D printing industry continues to expand, applications for the technology will also continue to grow.

Companies are currently working on printable materials that kill bacteria. This would help extend the lifetime of aligners, crowns, and implants.

The inclusion of bacteria resistant materials will make them last longer and be more resilient and prevent costly and harmful infection.

As 3D printer capabilities improve, customers will come to the dentist to get their prescription dentures. The dentures are created in house rather than being ordered from a manufacturer. Saving both the dentist and the patient, time, effort, and money.

Importantly, as the technology becomes more prolific, the cost will decrease for both the dentist and the consumer, helping increase profits and attract more customers.

The dental materials that the machines use will continue to improve, meaning the core capabilities of the devices will increase.

Making the technology an even more viable option for dentists.

Conclusion

Overall, the development of dental 3D printing is an incredible technology with a whole host of benefits.

As it continues to improve and more practices use it, the cost will come down.

Customer care will be transformed as waiting times are cut, and products become more reliable and cheaper.

However, if you are considering entering the market, make sure to do your homework. Different printer providers offer different functionality and support. This can affect the long-term viability of their machines.

The dental industry is being revolutionized by 3D printing technology. All dental practices will need to embrace 3D printing technology and its many benefits to stay competitive.

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