3D Printing and Dentistry

3D printed mouthpiece with titanium material

You’ve probably heard about 3D printing, but did you know that this technology is applicable to dentistry? Though it seems to have emerged straight from the pages of your favorite cyberpunk novel, it seems that digitally created implants may be in the cards for future dentists and healthcare professionals.

3D printing has also come to be known as additive manufacturing, which means that digital 3D models are turned into solid objects by building up layers of a certain material (matching the parameters of the digital model) to create a real life object!

Though the technology was first introduced as the natural next step after 2D printing on paper, it has quickly evolved into a game-changing manufacturing technology. So far industries including but not limited to aerospace, defense, and art and design have adopted the technology for a variety of uses. Though it’s not definite when or to what degree 3D printing might be adopted by the dental industry, there is great potential for patients’ dental needs to be fulfilled quickly and locally using this technology.

Most dentists would agree: every person’s mouth is unique. This is the main reason why 3D printing could be massively successful in dentistry. Crowns, bridges, retainers, splints, dentures, and surgical guides and instruments, all require some level of custom work to match each patient’s mouth.

“I love the idea of 3D printing as there are many ways for it to be used in dentistry,” Dr. Brian Brunacini commented. “Whether it involves a metal framework for a partial denture or making a crown, the technology can only help.  As dentistry goes digital, the impressions we take are so accurate that having a perfect fit is easily accomplished, which reduces costs and the amount of time required for each fitting.”

Digital x-rays as well as scans and models have already begun to “digitalize” dentistry work systems. These systems are becoming increasingly commonplace. In fact, you may have already encountered 3D printing in dentistry, though you might not realize it: Invisalign utilizes 3D modeling and printing technology in the creation of their products.

Despite initial barriers as 3D printing tried to gain a foothold in the industry, it seems that further technological advances are removing issues like high cost, software unreliability, and material limitations. With the introduction of desktop 3D printers, the cost of professional 3D printers has dropped substantially. Desktop and large-scale printers alike have been able to perform accurately in a clinical setting. In particular, the usability and relative low cost of desktop models have made the technology accessible for dental firms of every size.

As more 3D printers, software, and materials continue to be released, the industry continues to change. 3D printing is already possible with pure metals, metal alloys, thermoplastics and thermoplastic composites, ceramics, and edible food materials. Materials can also be formulated to take on different textures. As one example, gum tissue can be replicated with materials that have a rubbery texture. The most important factor in assessing materials is the quality of the final printed product.

Each year, more and more materials are released in accordance with FDA regulation. Soon, companies will release biocompatible materials that will be compatible with certain printers models. This development will further expand the potential of the technology, and would result in printers being able to create custom dental implants, like crowns or bridges, right there in the office.

Dr. Brunacini offered his perspective on the future of this technology. “There are still a lot of hurdles ahead for 3D printing in dentistry,” he stated. “Something to keep in mind along the way is that the art of dentistry is very important to as well, and that art could be lost with machines fabricating a crown.”

Whatever is in store for 3D printing and dentistry, you can rest assured that you’re able to rely on the care and craftsmanship of your trusted team at Falmouth Dental Arts. Interested in dental technology and how it has evolved over the years? Let’s talk more at your next appointment!