One of the main benefits of 3D printing is the ability to create one-off, bespoke parts cost effectively. Like fingerprints, every set of teeth is unique – where dentists and orthodontists traditionally used alginate moulds and plaster models of a patient’s teeth, they can now digitise the process with an intra-oral scanner and a 3D printer. The process is quicker, easier and more effective than before and does not require physical storage space to keep plaster casts.
The ability for 3D printed parts to be created that match perfectly with the patient’s morphology added to the relatively straightforward workflow involved has seen the dental industry develop into one of the biggest users of additive manufacturing. There are a variety of different manufacturers and materials that have been developed specifically for dental use. The majority of dental applications make use of SLA printers due to the high level of detail achievable. Additive manufacturing can also be used to complement traditional processes by printing in castable materials, this allows for biocompatible metal alloys and pressed ceramics to still be utilised.
A Selection of 3D printing applications in Dental
Scale models are often used in the Automotive industry to communicate design ideas and showcase the different forms of a vehicles’ design. The ability to effectively communicate design intention between multi-disciplinary teams is incredibly important. These models can also be used for aerodynamic testing during development to enable engineers to optimise designs.
When carrying out dental drilling it is extremely important to be precise, hitting the wrong nerve can cause a huge amount of pain and can even result in partial facial paralysis. To assist in this process, surgical guides are used to position the drill exactly where it should be. 3D printed guides that are Class I biocompatible (rated for up to 24 hours of intra-oral use) are created by taking a scan of the patient’s teeth and using dental modelling software to insert guides that accommodate the drilling inserts during surgery. The reliability of the procedure is increased significantly using these guides by ensuring the drill is aligned correctly.
The addition of long-term biocompatible materials for intra-oral use has allowed functional dentures to be produced using 3D printing. These dentures can be printed directly from digital models created using a scan of the patient’s mouth, significantly reducing the complexity of the process and lowering costs for clinicians and patients alike. The speed at which the dental industry is evolving with the help of additive manufacturing means that new applications and updated workflows are being introduced all the time.
Existing workflows for producing orthotic devices such as splints and retainers require multiple steps involving moulding and thermoforming to get to the final part. 3D printing simplifies this process as it allows for these orthodontic devices to be produced directly. Printing resins rated for long term intra-oral use (Class IIa biocompatible) are available to eliminate additional steps that are no longer required.
Crowns & Bridges
Fitting crowns and bridges are ubiquitous orthodontic procedures around the world to correct for damaged. The dental prostheses themselves are commonly made from metal alloys or ceramic materials so the hybrid analogue/digital technique of using castable wax resins is often used to create the accurate, bespoke models.