It’s not an unprecedented guess that when you hear the words “dentistry” or “orthodontics,” you relive some unfortunate memories including fillings, braces, crowns, and the dreaded… root canal. With such negative experiences, it’s not surprising that people don’t pay too much attention to the medical innovations that actually alleviate some of the headache that goes along with these procedures. One improvement that some dental offices are making is utilizing 3D printers. However, the potential of 3D printers have not been fully demonstrated. Fortunately, amidst their better known uses, they are making their way into the world of dentistry. Layer by layer, the foundations for new dental methodologies and appliances are being fortified.
All dentistry patients should be familiar with teeth impressions in which you typically bite down into an alginate (a.k.a. dental grade silly putty) and the result is turned into a usable mould. Dentists send these moulds to a lab where they create, for example, crowns for chipped teeth and retainers. However, before 3D printing, manufacturing these pieces is renowned for lasting a long time and being expensive. The best part was that if your teeth get damaged or moved after corrections, this process starts over. That means you spend more time and money. This was the problem that 23 year old Amos Dudley faced when he decided to take matters into his own hands.
Like many tooth alignment patients, Dudley’s teeth grouped together when he didn’t keep up with his braces. Faced with this situation, he had a few options. He could remain with his crooked smile or somehow find the money to invest in an alignment solution, which was unlikely for a college student. But after some extensive research on the orthodontic alignment process, Dudley came upon a unique, potential solution. By utilizing his background in digital design, and his access to the New Jersey Institute of Technology’s digital fabrication tools, Dudley was able to fabricate his own set of 3D printed orthodontic aligners.
DISCLAIMER: Do NOT try this yourself. Dudley himself suggests that no one should attempt to create their own aligners. What he did was very dangerous, and let’s just say “botched dental correction” is a frightening thing to Google search.
Dudley made a cast of his teeth with the same materials orthodontists use before scanning the resulting mould into his 3D modeling software. Although this process is quite similar to that of modern orthodontics, it differs with the 3D modeling software which allowed him to simulate the route each tooth would need to travel. With the correction process carefully mapped out, he was able to create a printable, .stl model for each stage his teeth would shift. He successfully printed a model for each stage of correction and vacuum formed a clear aligner on each.
At 16 weeks, Dudley released before & after photographs of his progress. Despite the risks, Dudley was able to successfully fix his smile and, might I say, that his smile looks amazing (and to think his only education in dentistry came from the University of the World Wide Web)!
It’s clear to see that Dudley’s innovative application of 3D printing is one that could either inspire or terrify the orthodontic world. With this brave college student demonstrating the potential of 3D printing in dentistry, what’s to stop an entrepreneur from “spear-heading” the concept for a future business? That’s exactly what some dentists and dental laboratories are starting to do. Small dental practices have adopted 3D printers specifically made to create dental devices. Rather than using traditional impression methods these dentists are combining oral scanning, CAD design software and 3D printing to minimize production time and delivery on orthodontic appliances, crowns, and even stone models for clear aligners.
Saul Kaplan talks about his local dentist’s adoption of 3D printing in his practice in his blog, It’s Saul Connected. Comparing his experience with new and old crown installation procedures, his first crown required multiple, expensive visits to the dentist while his second crown was installed in only one. The difference was that instead of having a local lab carve his crown, a CNC Milling Machine managed to carve it from a 3D digital scan, in-house, in ten minutes.
Dr. Selinsky, Kaplan’s dentist, is not the only practitioner to integrate 3D printing into his or her business. ARCAD, a 3D Orthodontic Innovations group, also uses 3D printing and modeling to create orthodontic appliances and digital models. These digital models are much more accurate and convenient than original stone moulds, as they can be used to simulate tooth movement and even help to prepare for oral surgeries. Formlabs has also designed biocompatible resins products, which can be used to make products such as surgical guides for surgeons to practice and simplify procedures.
Overall, 3D printing has many diverse applications that need little imagination and innovation to bring to their full potential. So far it has done great things for people who have invested in a printer for their business, and layer by layer, 3D printers are helping to revolutionize the dentist and orthodontic fields. The integration of 3D technologies allows for a far more efficient procedure for creating dental moulds. Through the use of scanning and digital modeling, the carbon footprint and cost due to error is greatly reduced. From simpler modeling techniques to reduction of manufacturing time, 3D printing is improving patient care in many aspects. With these advancements and the eventual, widespread integration of 3D printing in dental practices, your next trip to the dentist probably won’t be as repulsing as previous visits.
By Caity Benkoski