Three-dimensional printing is a relatively new manufacturing technique. 3D printers use a computer program to lay down thin layers of material, such as powdered plastic or pulverized stainless steel, until an object has been built up, explains The Wall Street Journal. This technology is already at work in many industries, from letting astronauts print tools in space to helping architects make models. Its exciting applications for dental care include custom 3D printed teeth, dentures and a variety or other tools for patients and practitioners.
3D Printed Dentures
Conventional full dentures are used to replace all the teeth in an arch (the whole upper or lower part of the mouth). An acrylic base fits on top of the gums, and artificial teeth are attached to the base. Traditionally, patients need to visit their dentists five or more times to have gum impressions made, record their bite patterns and jaw alignment, and be fitted for these dentures. Even after all the work and customization, the dentures may still be uncomfortable and bulky. 3D printing makes it possible to accelerate the manufacturing process. Using CAD/CAM technology (or computer-aided design and manufacturing), a dentist can measure a patient's mouth once and quickly design and print a set of teeth in just two or three visits, reports Dentistry Today.
3D Printed Teeth
Individual teeth can be 3D printed, too, explains DentistryIQ. When a patient's natural tooth has to be extracted, a dentist can scan its shape and size and print an exact copy from materials like titanium and zirconia. This provides a completely customized alternative to traditional dental implants. This technology is already in use in the European Union and is pending FDA approval in the United States. Portions of teeth or corrective pieces, such as crowns, can also be custom printed.
With 3D printing technology, oral surgeons can design and build life-like models of jawbones and other structures for use as surgical guides, reports Dentistry Today. These models can make surgical procedures, such as implant placements, more predictable. Current technology can even enable printing of entire skull models for facial reconstructive surgery.
Retainers are often used to maintain the straightened position of teeth after braces are removed. Traditionally, orthodontists take an impression of the teeth, have a dental laboratory create a retainer based on the impression, and have the patient return to try in and pick up the retainer. With 3D printing, retainers can be made in less than 50 minutes, reports Dentistry Today. Researchers are still expanding the variety of mouth-safe resins and plastics available for printing material.
3D printing is an exciting trend in dentistry. As the technology advances, scientists will find even more applications for it. If you're interested in 3D printed teeth and other innovative options, talk to your dentist to learn more about it.