3D printed dental is predicted to explode in the next decade, displacing existing manufacturing methods and making your biannual trip to the dentist both cheaper and less painful. SmarTech Publishing – a leading additive manufacturing research firm – recently released a report predicting that the market for 3D printing in the dentistry sector will grow to $9.5bn by 2027, and grew an incredible 35% year on year between 2016 and 2017.
Contrary to popular opinion, 3D printing has already taken over a few areas of healthcare and manufacturing. The majority of hearing aids, for example, are already 3D printed due to their need to be formed according to each person’s specifications. This makes 3D printing the perfect solution to other areas which require tailor-made parts, like dental implants.
Why 3D printing in dental?
The list of different dental areas are wider than you’d think: including teeth and orthodontic implants; crowns and bridges; surgical guides used in dental surgeries; braces and more.
3D printing is perfectly suited to all of these, in the same way it suits hearing aids. People are unique, and need uniquely shaped pieces that fit them perfectly. Hence, the 3D printing dental market is predicted to balloon – at a 18% CAGR rate – to $9.5bn by 2027, with the 3D printed dental implants market predicted to be worth $1bn on its own by 2024.
Much of this growth is coming from the increasing amounts of prostheticians, dentists, and laboratories that are using 3D printing to experiment with the manufacturing of new materials, parts, and implants; leading to increasing adoption.
The biggest gains in 3D printed dental are predicted to be in Stereolithography, as well as metal 3D printing technologies like Direct Metal Laser Sintering and Electron Beam Melting. SLA is touted to be the best for resin-based implants and solutions, whereas DMLS suits metal parts.
How can 3D printing help dentists?
Beginning with another 3D technology, 3D scanning; a model of the patient’s can be taken without having to actually touch the patient’s mouth. This is a far cry from the uncomfortable method used prior to create dental prosthetics during which patient’s had to bite into molds which were then cast.
The 3D file can then be opened and edited in a dental 3D software tool – such as 3D-Doctor, Maestro Ortho Studio, Medical Design Studio or Within Medical – before being exported, ready to print. Having a file also means many 3D printing services can create the orthodontic piece for you if you do not have access to a 3D printer.
Using 3D printing means that if the model doesn’t fit, the whole piece doesn’t need to be remade like with injection molding. Instead, simply modify the design and reprint the incorrect part. There are even talks of special 3D printed teeth made from a special microbial plastic that kills bacteria on contact that are responsible for tooth decay, in addition to 3D printed braces with inbuilt LED lights.
Areas in dentistry where 3D printing can help
- Crowns and bridges – Typically made using ceramic and metal alloys, these forms of prosthodontics can be made more quickly using a castable resin such as those that Formlabs offer. The printed resin dental implant can then be used as a mold to create a hollow negative before the final part is cast.
- Surgical guides – Not all 3D printed dental parts are for implanting into patients; 3D printed surgical guides can play a key part in patient welfare too. Dental drilling is a process that requires extreme precision to avoid hitting nerves and potentially causing the patient extreme pain. Resins can be used to create 3D printed dental surgical guides with a hole over the area which needs to be drilled, aligning the drill exactly where it needs to go. This reduces the amount of dental surgery error, and helps flatten the learning curve dentists face, too.
- Direct printed orthodontics – There are some dental applications like mouth guards and splints which, with 3D printing, can be made in one part rather than in multiple steps. Other manufacturing methods struggle with the geometries, but 3D printers can create these parts easily from clear resins using either Stereolithography or Digital Light Processing. Companies like Formlabs have even partnered with dental 3D scanner company 3Shape to make creating dental prosthodontics as simple as possible. You can now seamlessly use a 3Shape dental 3D scanner to create scans to be printed on any Formlabs SLA 3D printer.
Advantages of Dental 3D Printing
- Speed – The time taken to create a dental implant such as a crown is far longer and more difficult when using traditional methods. It involves the invasive and uncomfortable process of biting down onto a mold to model your teeth, before sending the mold off to be cast. Instead, the mouth can be 3D scanned using a 3D scanner to get an accurate model of the patient’s mouth, which can then be sent to a 3D printer. If the laboratory has a dental 3D printer in store, you can potentially go from scanning a patient’s mouth to having the implant ready, in less than an hour. Some 3D printing technologies, such as Selective Laser Sintering, can print multiple custom implants in one print tray, at the same speed it would take to print a single piece.
- Accuracy – Another advantage of 3D printing is how accurate it is, with industrial dental 3D printers such as Formlabs’ Form 2 SLA 3D printer accurate up to 35 microns. EnvisionTEC’s DLP 3D printers are accurate up to 10 microns, which is even better. This means dental implants will definitely fit, and inhabit the exact space they are required to. No more, no less.
- Efficiency – Existing methods involve waiting not only for your implant to be made, but also the lead time in booking multiple appointments in with your dentist. 3D printing offers the potential for same-day dental solutions, making the whole process far more efficient. Dentists could see more patients, and patients require less time off work to see their dentists; everyone’s a winner.
- Environmentally Friendly – Since 3D printing is a form of additive manufacturing rather than subtractive, there is very little waste. This means less materials are used in the making of parts like orthodontic aligners, crowns and bridges. This is not only beneficial for the environment, but also helps cut costs.
Major Dental 3D Printer Manufacturers
Stratasys manufacture a wide variety of dental 3D printers, including the Objet260 and Objet500 Dental Selections; J700 Dental; and the Eden260VS Dental Advantage. These dental 3D printers can create cast chrome partial dentures, as well as dental surgery guides which help to improve results and reduce errors. This improved planning using 3D printing both reduces patient discomfort and speeds up recovery.
Stratasys dental 3D printers can also create implants that mimic the textures and colors inside a real human mouth. This improves clinic outcomes as dentists can practice under conditions with the highest level of realism, shortening the learning curve.
Despite being founded as recently as September 2011, Formlabs is already a major player in dental 3D printing. Creating low-priced and accurate models of mouths and teeth, another advantage of Formlabs 3D printers is they are accurate up to 35 microns using their Dental Model Resin. SmarTech even reported that Formlabs’ market share grew twenty-fold in the two years leading up to 2017.
Formlabs dental 3D printers are able to print: crowns and bridges; clear aligner models; surgical guides; splints and occlusal guards, and the American company claim they will even soon be able to print dentures.
EnvisionTEC are an industrial 3D printer manufacturer which make huge behemoth printers capable of extraordinary things. The American company manufactures DLP 3D printers accurate up to 10 microns, meaning near-perfect dental implants can be printed.
EnvisionTEC dental 3D printers can print: dental and orthodontic models; crowns and bridges; night guards and splints; denture bases; surgical drill guides and more. This wide range of applications meant that EnvisionTEC dental 3D printer sales grew by an estimated 75% between 2015 and 2016.
Overall, the 3D printed dentistry market seems to be unstoppable in its rise. The two seem perfectly matched: a manufacturing method that offers one-off, custom production; and a market that requires it. To us, 3D printing will come to dominate this sector in the same way it has begun to dominate hearing aids, leading to a number of efficiency gains, safer treatment, and lower costs. This is a concrete application of 3D printing in an important industry, and may be important in its quest for increasing democratization.