3D Printing in Dentistry is Making a Positive Impression on the Orthodontic Industry

3D printing in the dental industry should top $930B in total revenues by the end of 2025, and its application across different procedures is far-reaching. It is used for everything from retainers to aligners, dentures to crowns.

Dental implants are unusual in the field of medicine because everything installed in a patient’s mouth must be custom-made. Custom solutions are unique to some, but they have long been the norm in dentistry and orthodontics. For example, in orthodontics patients need multiple iterations of wires or aligners as they work their way through treatment.

This makes 3D printing an ideal fit for the dental industry. It is faster, less expensive, and more accurate than previously available custom solutions. There’s no need to go through the lengthy process of taking physical impressions and creating a plaster mock-up of a patient’s teeth. Instead, an intraoral scanner captures a 3D digital impression. This camera creates a 3D rendering of the teeth and gums in a digital file. With the right technology, and especially if the 3D printer is local, dental appliances can be printed locally and faster than ever before.

The Innovation of 3D Printing in Dentistry

3D printing and its advanced photopolymers are the end-game manufacturing solution for the dental industry. Using the information from a file, 3D printing builds it in layers of photopolymer selected by your doctor. A photopolymer or light-activated resin is a polymer that changes its properties upon light exposure. For example, exposure to UV light causes liquid resins used in 3D printing to harden.

Dental technology provides a complete digital workflow for an evolved, more efficient treatment. Doctors, and their patients, benefit from 3D modeling. They can see and discuss advanced future states of their teeth, and plan more accurately. Thanks to 3D printing, appliances are easy to adjust for custom prescriptions. Furthermore, when a patient loses or breaks an aligner or retainer, it can be replaced very quickly, preventing loss of treatment results.

Straight Forward Lab assists dental and orthodontic offices in the Oklahoma City area with their conversion to a fully digitized office and provides 3D printing services. “It is so exciting for our clients to make the transition to a digital dental workflow,” says Julie Ingram, manager of Straight Forward Lab. “When it becomes a reality, they quickly realize how easy it is to transition to 3D printing. Also, they see how much they save in the way of time and resources for themselves and their patients. And they are so happy with the speed and convenience.”

3D Printing for Dentistry
3D printing is transforming the orthodontics industry.

Also Known As Additive Manufacturing

Additive manufacturing, often referred to as 3D printing, is a process in which digital 3D design data builds a component in layers by depositing material. As a result of the growing importance of 3D printing in custom manufacturing, two pieces of equipment are the new darlings of dentistry and orthodontics — intraoral scanners and 3D printers.

Further, the demand for 3D printing is significant. According to the American Academy of Implant Dentistry (AAID), the United States dental implant and the prosthetic market generated $6.4 billion in 2018. However, facing serious foreign competition, the number of dental labs in the United States declined from 7,863 in 2004 to 6,584 in 2015, according to the National Association of Dental Laboratories.

3D printing in dentistry will improve results for patients while simultaneously shifting production from overseas dental labs back to local facilities.

3D printing for dentistry
Accuracy, speed and local fulfillment make 3D printing a great choice for dentists and orthodontics.

The Perfect Fit with 3D Printing in Dentistry

The evolution of additive manufacturing in dentistry and orthodontics makes sense. In fact, orthodontics has already found uses for different means of 3D printing including vat polymerization, material jetting, and material extrusion (fused filament deposition).

Dentistry requires crowns, implants, dentures, and appliances that are custom. The strength of 3D printing is the ability to produce high-resolution, one-of-a-kind objects. Whereas traditional milling machines rely on subtractive modelling techniques, 3D printing is an additive process. It builds with layers as prescribed by the doctor using a virtual framework.

Digital scanning, combined with 3D printing, also promises to reduce some of the anxiety associated with the dental experience. Patients no longer have the stress of impressions.  Now, it is possible to take a contactless 3D scan of a patient’s mouth. You might say speed, accuracy, and convenience are at your fingertips.