Dental 3D Printing in the Neighborhood to Make Custom Clear Aligners On Demand

Dental 3D printing is helping transform the supply chain for dentists and orthodontists in the Oklahoma City area. In fact, 3D printing is one of the key technologies driving transformation.

That is because 3D printing has many applications in dentistry including bridge models, surgical guides, and dentures. However, clear aligner manufacturing is one of the most common uses of dental 3D printing today.

According to SmarTech Analysis, clear aligners are “perhaps the single highest volume application for 3D printing technologies in the world today.”  Consequently, dental professionals such as Sky Ortho, serving the Oklahoma City area, associate many benefits with using a local 3D printer for manufacturing their clear aligners.

dental 3D printing
Intraoral scanner and laptop. Photo courtesy of

How a Digital Office and Dental 3D Printing Benefit Your Practice

The use of digital technologies to improve accuracy and speed patient treatments as well as manufacture retainers and clear aligners is a perfect example of digital dentistry in action. The digital processes are relatively simple to adopt and have a very high return on investment.  Most typically begin with an orthodontist or dentist capturing an impression of the patient’s dentition with the help of a 3D intraoral scanner.

After scanning the patient’s teeth, the doctor uses the digital scans to record the existing and determine the desired position of the teeth. Then an orthodontist will plan the incremental stages between the current and desired teeth positions. When teeth have reached their final position, the orthodontist or dentist will request a retainer from a current scan.

Moving teeth is complex requiring the swap out of several different aligners as treatment progresses. The number of aligners used in the course of one patient’s treatment ranges from 5 to 30 (on average, 6-10). In order to create each aligner, orthodontists must first produce molds of the teeth for use in a molding process called thermoforming.

dental 3D printing
Digital dentistry begins with the intraoral scan in the office.

A Unique Supply Chain Requiring Custom Fit and Rapid Fulfilment

Here is where dental 3D printing is a superhero. That is because it allows custom applications with tweaks from the treating orthodontist or dentist to accommodate responses from the teeth as they move into the desired position. This allows the practitioner to optimize the treatment individually of each patient.

It is thought that the majority of retainers and clear aligners are currently produced using dental 3D printed for molds. The key technologies enabling this are Stereolithography (SLA) and Material Jetting thanks to their high speed and accuracy. Straight Forward Lab uses resin-based technologies. In addition to these resin-based processes, HP offers a powder-based technology called Multi Jet Fusion.

dental 3D printing
Adjustments and replacement appliances on-demand with fast fulfillment using local supplier, Straight Forward Lab.

Where Dental 3D Printing is a Clear Winner

Retainers and clear aligners are inherently individualized products. Both are custom-made to fit a patient, and with each aligner being slightly different from the other. This need for a high level of customization requires a very flexible technology to make customization viable. Dental 3D printing is the only technology that enables professionals to customize retainers and clear aligners cost-effectively.

Before the advent of scanners and 3D printers, retainer molds were cast in stone. To make aligners, these molds were individually copied, then modified by a lab technician. This process involved carefully cutting out each tooth, then repositioning them back into the model (using wax as an adhesive) in a slightly improved position. The dentist or orthodontist would then have to approve each step before aligner fabrication.

Obviously, this technique made aligners incredibly labor-intensive, and so very time-consuming and expensive to make. Digital scanners, orthodontic-specific software, and 3D printing have greatly reduced the labor involved, making aligners more predictable, faster to produce, and less expensive overall for both the dentist or orthodontist and the patient than ever before.

dental 3D printing
Sync your digital office with Straight Forward Lab for unprecedented control.

Localizing Production and Fulfillment for Fast, Personal Response

In the most common digital dentistry scenario, patient intraoral scans arrive at the dental lab for processing. Our staff 3D prints the molds and fabricates the retainers and aligners. By taking this approach, a dentist can begin treatment in a matter of days instead of weeks.

Furthermore, thanks to this digital workflow, retainers and aligners can be replaced much faster in the event that they are lost by a patient. Working with a local lab, the staff uses the digital file of the lost retainer or aligner to 3D print a mold and then quickly cast a new one. This process requires just a few hours.

Another bonus is the flexibility of digitizing future views of the mouth, removing braces, and more. These new technologies ensure greater success than ever before in dentistry and orthodontics. Straight Forward Lab is very happy to close the loop on supply chain fulfillment in the Oklahoma City area.