XYZprinting CEO, Simon Shen, explains how 3D printing is not just changing dentistry, but taking it to a whole new level of personalisation
Already hailed as a hugely disruptive technology in the manufacturing, engineering and retail sectors, 3D printing is reshaping the way dentists approach personalised care.
Of course, the ability to create a tooth while a patient waits in the dental chair has been around for 30 years. For decades dentists have been able to mill new teeth, crowns and veneers from a block of dental material, using scanners and 3D modelling software.
Now, however, the 3D printing revolution is taking this service to a whole new level of personalisation.
3D printing – or additive manufacturing – builds up items by depositing materials layer by layer. The technology can create and replicate objects with an intricacy of detail that other manufacturing methods fail to achieve. The advantages for dentistry are that replacements can be created that match the exact grooves and curves desired.
The problem with widespread use of 3D printing in dentistry always used to be the length of time it takes for a printer to create the model. However, innovations are making 3D printing ever more rapid, with some being able to produce teeth-sized models in a matter of minutes.
The next most important milestone in the adoption of dental 3D printers is the breaking down of the cost barrier. Traditionally, 3D printers cost in the matter of tens of thousands of pounds. Now, simple desktop models can be bought for only a few hundred pounds, rising to less than a couple of thousand for high-resolution, professional SLA models.
This technology is ever evolving and improving, and with these developments come new applications for the dental sector. The dental and medical market for 3D printers is expected to expand to £523m by 2025.
With that in mind, here are a number of ways in which affordable desktop and professional 3D printers can innovate the dental sector.
In-house manufacture and design
Combining scanning of the mouth, 3D modelling and design and 3D printing, dentists can produce their own crowns, bridges and orthodontic devices. 3D printers can also create drill guides for dental implants. The key benefits of the technology are the true personalisation of the models to each individual patient, and the ability to create these in-house.
3D printers are able to create objects in a whole range of materials, traditionally plastics and metals. However, the potential for use of novel materials in dentistry is particularly exciting; researchers have recently created antimicrobial plastic which allows for 3D printing of teeth that kill bacteria. While these experiments are still in their early stages, it is easy to imagine how 3D printed implants could revolutionise oral care.
3D printing is proving incredibly useful in surgical planning. This has already made the headlines in medical settings, where the technology has been used to visualise and anticipate complex procedures including in unusual heart surgery cases.
The same techniques can be used in dentistry. Taking a 3D scan of the patient’s mouth, a digital 3D model of the teeth can be generated. This can in turn be used to 3D print models of teeth, gums and even nerves to help dentists understand how they will carry out a procedure on a particular patient.
Being able to visualise a procedure is useful not just for surgeons, but also for the patients themselves. Being shown a highly accurate model replica of their own mouth can help patients’ understanding of their treatments, help them know exactly what to expect. Such models are also a tangible demonstration of the fact that the dentist is using a highly personalised approach, which, alongside greater understanding of their procedure, can help relieve patient anxiety.
The dental profession’s embrace of the 3D printing revolution will no doubt propel personalisation and patient care to the next level. The technology gets ever faster and more accessible, and models available today are already both sophisticated and affordable enough to be viable for even small dental practices. The time to get in on the 3D printing revolution is now.
Simon Shen is the CEO of XYZprinting, one of the world’s number one 3D printing brands. For more information visit http://eu.xyzprinting.com/ or call +31 85 876 8735