Since its inception in 1984, 3D printing has been researched, studied and tested for its application in medical and dental manufacturing applications, including dental crowns, bridges and implants. While it’s still in its infancy, 3D scanners and CAD/CAM technologies have the ability to create three dimensional objects from a digital file. From prosthetics to human tissue engineering to dental implants, scientists continue to challenge the capability of this new medical marvel known as 3D printing.
Why 3D Printing is the Future of Dentistry
Generally, patients who need dental crowns face a 2-visit process. For the first visit, a patient has to have a mold taken of his prepared tooth (or teeth!) with a gooey impression material in a tray which must stay motionless in the mouth for 3-5 minutes. This is the most precise method of getting a crown to fit that is spot-on perfect with margins (edges) accurate to within microns. After it stiffens the tray is removed and a temporary crown is fabricated and temporarily cemented so that a patient can continue with their normal activities for the 2-4 weeks it takes a dental lab to get the finished ceramic restoration back. During this time, the patient has to be very careful about what they eat so as not to pull the temporary crown off. At the second and last visit, the permanent crown is tried on, adjusted and then cemented or bonded into place.
Today many dental clinics and labs in universities and colleges across the US continue to make the investment into advanced digital technology to offer dental students an opportunity to learn the latest in digital equipment. In Rochester NY, the Eastman Institute for Oral Health has contributed millions to its prosthodontic clinic to teach students how to take impressions digitally.
What can Patients Expect?
There is an important distinction to be made here. We are first talking about taking the impression and making the model for the restoration digitally by scanning the tooth or teeth. Many patients suffer from a gag reflex and can’t tolerate the impression material and tray in their mouth that is required to make the precision molds. In addition, the digital file created by the scan is robust – for instance a new crown can be made a couple of years later if the old one chips or somehow has to be remade. It also may be more accurate than impressions since computer files do not change dimensions from heat, cold, etc. Once you have the digital impression it can either be emailed to a lab so they can create a model to fabricate the crown conventionally (so you still need a couple of weeks and a temporary crown). But crowns can be made on the spot in one day with a milling machine or a 3D digital printer with no temporary needed! For the patient there are many benefits, convenience being a major one. You can now have beautiful dental work done in one visit. Also. patients won’t have to eat or chew being very careful not to crack or dislodge the temporary crown because that phase of the process is doesn’t exist anymore.
Of course a big factor in crown, bridge and implant placement is the aesthetics. Digital dental technology hasn’t reached the point where it can accurately determine the right surface color, translucency and value (grayness or brightness) of a tooth. Obviously, one color does not fit all. We still need a dentist’s input when deciding and customizing certain aesthetic details.
Printing Teeth at Home
While printing teeth at home is way off in the future, finance experts indicate that 3D printing in Healthcare may become a billion-dollar industry by the year 2020. For now, 3D printing is still very expensive, which is why you’ll only hear of it employed in the R&D departments of universities. Consumer 3D printers are not cheap either. Some run as high as $2500.
One thing you can never receive at home is an expert evaluation and exam from a dental professional. Nothing can replace the expertise and commitment to patient satisfaction you’ll receive at the office of Dr. Mark Langberg, DDS, MAGD. Hundreds of 5 star reviews are a testament to the dedication we have to providing the best in cosmetic, restorative, preventive, emergency and oral sedation dental care. Just take a look and see for yourself the difference a great dentist (and a great dental staff!) can make!
Until Next Time,
Mark W Langberg, DDS, MAGD
Your Southfield Family Dentist
Tel: (248) 356-8790