The American Academy of Implant Dentistry (AAID) projected a $6.4 billion revenue in 2018 for the dental implant and the prosthetic market. This follows from their estimate that 35 million Americans have lost all their natural teeth. Even with the high demand, local dental labs have declined in numbers from 2004 to 2015 because of stiff foreign competition. As 3D printing becomes more cost-effective, production is moving back to local facilities.
Dental solutions with 3D printing
Dental clinics are already making use of digitized technology and additive manufacturing processes to produce dental aids from implant drill guides to copings. More clinics are moving towards digital technology to help reduce the wait time for patients. For example, they use milling machines to produce crowns more efficiently.
3D printing is time efficient and is the key to producing one-off, customized dental fittings. Implants, dentures and crowns can all be produced to their exact specifications and to a high resolution. The conventional method of taking dental impressions with a thick putty can cause distress in patients. In contrast, 3D scanning of the patient’s mouth is contactless and more desirable.
Soon, patients will not have to wait days or weeks to have their teeth fixed. With on-site 3D printers, clinics can stay ahead of the competition and provide dental solutions in minutes or hours.
Implementing change in dentistry with 3D printing
In 2017, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a material used as denture bases in 3D printing. Digital light processing (DLP) is used to focus light onto one micro-thin layer of polymer at a time while hardening it. This enables dental labs to print high-resolution bases.
The traditional fabrication of dental crowns, even with CNC milling, is a laborious process. The solution is to 3D print these crowns instead. With resolutions down to 10 microns, 3D-printed crown surfaces are so smooth, they require minimal post-processing. It is also possible to produce crowns of cobalt-chrome and other alloys with the use of selective laser sintering (SLS), electron beam melting (EBM) or metal laser melting machines (DMLM).
In-house 3D printing of braces can reduce the number of follow-up dental visits that would normally be required in a 24-month period. Mouthguards that are prescribed for those who grind their teeth at night can be printed within an hour on-site. Similarly, clear aligners and acrylic retainers can be printed in a short amount of time using AM processes.
It is now possible for 3D printing to meet the challenges of reconstructive dentistry, such as mandibular reconstruction and lower arch implant rehabilitation. It is comparable to how 3D-printed titanium cranial implants have benefited patients undergoing reconstructive surgery in hospitals.
With laws requiring dental records to be kept for many years, 3D printing may be the best solution to eliminate the need to store hard models that can take up an increasing amount of space over time. When compliance is called for, models can be printed on-demand since the records are held in CAD files.
Certainly, with all the possibilities that 3D printing is capable of, the dental profession is bound to experience a revolution in the way dentistry is done, one that ultimately benefits the patient. Now is the time for dental clinics and labs to learn from 3D printing experts to find out how they too can implement these changes.
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