Additive Printing Transforms Digital Dentistry

by Abdul Rehman on November 1, 2013

Digital ToothEnduring a lot of pain, waiting for weeks and still not getting normal and healthy teeth; these things are rightly associated with dentistry because of the slow and painful methods used by dentists today.

Gradually, things are changing with the advent of digital dentistry which uses computers instead of mechanical or electrical tools.

Once additive printing is fully incorporated into digital dentistry, you might have to wait only for minutes rather than weeks to get a new tooth or crown!

Digital Dentistry – A Revolution in Dentistry

Digital dentistry is the use of dental devices and technologies that have computer-controlled or digital components. While traditional dentistry relies on devices like electric drills, stone molds and braces to restore dental structure and health, digital dentistry relies on innovative technologies such as lasers, X-Rays and oral scanners.

Using computer assisted devices, such as intraoral scanners, dentists can now instantly diagnose diseases such as caries. Digitizing and saving the patient’s record and treatment progress is far quicker and safer than writing it all on paper.

In addition, 3D printing has just begun to be used in dentistry to replace lost or extracted teeth and make other dental objects like crowns and braces. The use of computer aided designing (CAD) and manufacturing (CAM) with 3D printing has made manufacturing artificial teeth or fillings simply a matter of clicks and keys on the computer screen.

3D Printing Teeth – How it Works

For making crowns, artificial teeth and orthodontic appliances such as braces, the traditional method has been to take a physical impression of the patient’s teeth. This is then sent to the laboratory where these physical impressions are used to make the desired dental objects. This is a time consuming process that takes weeks. 3D printing has now made it possible to make these Dental Objects in Under an Hour!

You might be wondering how 3D printing systems create artificial teeth and crowns in such a short time. Actually, the dentist first scans the patient’s mouth with an intraoral 3D scanner; this scan is then transferred to a computer software and finally the software directs a 3D printer to print the required object. This process is detailed below:

  • Intraoral 3D ScanningIntraoral Scanning: The process begins with scanning the patient’s mouth with an intraoral Scanner Which Generates 3D Scans of the patient’s mouth and teeth. These scans are far more accurate and realistic than the impressions and molds that have been used traditionally. Moreover, because they are digital, they can be viewed and processed immediately instead of having to send them to a specialized laboratory. Recently, Tooth-brush Sized Scanners have been invented which feed their output to a touch screen where the dentist can make changes with a few gestures instead of having to use complicated software.
  • Dentistry SoftwareComputer Aided Design and Manufacturing: After scanning the patient’s teeth with the scanner, the 3D image is then transferred to the computer. Once in the computer, special computer programs are used to generate, view and make adjustments to the desired printed object on the computer screen. The computer also matches the virtual object with the scanned image of the patient’s teeth to ensure that it conforms to the requirements. If everything is in accordance with the desired result, the dentist directs the computer to print the object with the help of a 3D printer.
  • 3D Printed Dentistry3D Printing: Special 3D printers are used in dentistry that are designed for accuracy. Moreover, specialized materials such as transparent biopolymers are used in dental 3D printers. Once the computer gives the command, the 3D printer starts to print the dental object layer by layer until the whole object is completed. The time required for the whole process may be as little as one hour.

Stratasys is one of the few companies offering affordable dental 3D printers. The Digital Orthodontics Video on their YouTube channel clearly demonstrates the efficacy of 3D printers in dentistry.

Dental 3D Printing vs Traditional Methods

Using 3D printing for producing orthodontic appliances, artificial teeth and crowns not only saves time but also gives objects that are more precise and natural than those obtained by traditional methods. Stratasys writes on its website:

“With a 3D printer doing the hard work, dental labs eliminate the bottleneck of manual modeling and let the business grow. For those eager for the day when everything from scheduling to finished restoration can be achieved digitally and automatically, the future is here.”

The major advantages of additive printing over traditional methods are detailed below:

  • More Speed: The major advantage of 3D additive printing over traditional methods is its speed. Cumbersome stone molds and porcelain cast are eliminated. The dentists simply scans, adjusts and prints the dental objects within an hour. This is a huge improvement over the traditional methods which require weeks to prepare the objects from stone impressions.
  • Greater Accuracy: One major setback of the traditional methods is that despite every care by the dentist and the laboratory, the dental objects can still be inaccurate and may not exactly conform to the patient’s teeth. In contrast, 3D printing uses highly sophisticated scanning and software designing. This eliminates the risk of human errors and makes teeth exactly conforming to the patient’s demands.
  • Increased Productivity and Profits: With the use of additive printers, the time needed per dental object is reduced. More objects can be made in the same amount of time. Moreover, patient satisfaction is enhanced as they get quality teeth in minimum time. This boosts the dentists’ and dental laboratories’ productivity as well as profit. Dental Consulting Dohrn (DCD), a German dental laboratory, reported a 32% increase in efficiency by incorporating Stratasys 3D printers into their manufacturing methods! Heiko Dohrn, master technician at DCD, has this to say about 3D printing:

“We’ve seen immediate benefits where we can now produce a high number of extremely accurate models, all in a single print job. With analog procedures in the past, manufacturing at that level was just not possible.”

Conclusion – Sinking Your Teeth into Dentistry’s Future

In conclusion, additive printing is slowly but surely sinking its teeth into dentistry’s future. Gone are the days of pain and wait. In the near future, dentistry will be synonymous with efficiency, quickness and beauty, thanks to the revolution that additive printing will bring to it.

Read more about Additive Printing for Medical Use then please feel free to share this post.

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