3D printing may have at first sounded like a futuristic idea that was too good to be true. The technology, however, is no longer a pipe dream; 3D printing capabilities and applications have been progressing at lightning speeds, expanding into new fields and industries over the past several years. There is no question that it offers huge potential for dental professionals and the medical field. In fact, 3D printing could change how restorative and cosmetic dentistry is practiced in the United States within the next decade. Let’s explore the most promising areas of 3D advancement in prosthodontics and dentistry today. |
Understanding How 3D Printing Works
In 3-D printing, products are constructed layer by layer, building objects up with a powder substance, rather than a traditional printer’s ink. 3D printing relies on CAD (Computer-Aided Design) software that dissects cross-sectional information of each layer of an object. Liquid resin and a unique ultraviolet laser harden each layer of powder to create a solid resin substance. Simple objects can be produced now in as little as one hour, but objects with moving parts can also be constructed with today’s latest 3D printers.
3D Printing’s Applications in Dentistry
While the growth of 3D printing in other markets is expected to grow, 3D printing tools built especially for dentists are already a high-demand area. 3DGraphy, a 3D printing consulting firm, predicts that “the sale of 3D printing systems to dental labs will reach $480 million by the year 2020.” In addition, 3D printing technology is expected to fulfill nearly 70 percent of all dental production needs within the next six years.
Areas of Future Growth in Dental 3D Printing
The areas of dentistry that can most benefit from a rise in 3D printing accessibility and capabilities are those that currently require custom dental laboratory work to create very specific shapes and sizes of restorative or diagnostic tools. One of the main benefits 3D printing offers is fast solutions; lab solutions that previously would take two to three weeks can be made on-site by dental professionals in about one hour. These include:
3D Treatment Models: 3D images of a patient’s mouth can be taken and then digitally manipulated and changed by the dentist in order to show treatment goals or future results. Computer Aided Design (CAD) software for dental professionals can then allow the 3D model to be physically printed. Orthodontic Treatment Strategy: In a similar way, CAD software developed to create orthodontic aligners can use initial 3D images of a patient’s mouth to design a step-by-step orthodontic treatment to straighten and align teeth. Aligners can be printed within the dentist’s practice and will be available for immediate use. Restorative Services: Dental crowns, inlay, onlays, bridges, or even dentures and mouthguards can be custom-designed based on 3D patient images and printed same-day for immediate placement. Durable ceramic materials are used for printing, rather than a resin-based material. Dental tools: 3D printing can also be used to create resources and tools for dental and oral surgery professionals. Custom drill guides, for instance, can be printed to fit a patient’s mouth.
Benefits of Adopting 3D Technology
Traditional dental processes have been in-place for decades, and some dental professionals may have doubts about adopting 3D printing technology for their own practice. However, the benefits of this technology will be worth investing the time and resources it takes to learn and use this manufacturing tool. The biggest reason? 3D printing can save dental practices money. In-house dental laboratories are extremely costly to open and manage. 3D printers however, have a one-time cost of about $20-40,000. While materials must continually be purchased, the cost of operating a 3D printer is far lower than operating any dental lab facility and technicians. In addition, same-day custom solutions save huge amounts of time; no more weeks of waiting before custom pieces are complete. The need for temporary crowns or bridges is eliminated, saving additional resource costs.
However, the cost savings doesn’t just end with practices. Patients can save money, too. The high cost of dental lab-fabricated crowns, bridges, or dentures is passed on to patients. With far more affordable manufacturing processes, patients realize significant cost-savings for a restorative service that is actually superior in accuracy, quality and durability. Our Skokie, IL practice is proud to offer the technology of a Trios® 3D scanner, cone beam imaging, and a FormLabs 3D Printer, to offer faster, more affordable solutions for our patients. If you are interested in receiving dental care powered by the latest technology, call our practice to learn more and schedule a consultation!
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