Three-dimensional printing is a revolutionary technology that is transforming a variety of industries—construction, airline, medical and even including dentistry. What is so incredible about this additive manufacturing, though, is the range of materials 3D printers can use to create different products. Glass, plastic, concrete, liquid polymers, ceramics, titanium powder, porcelain and live tissues and cells have all proven to be effective materials. This means that skeletal implants, organ transplants, propellers, guns, instruments and much, much more can be made with a single machine.
Although Chuck Hall invented 3D printing technology nearly 30 years ago, the technology truly has blossomed in the past three or four years. Take the dental industry for example. Just a few months ago, Hall’s corporation, 3D Systems (3DS), announced the completed “integration of a new ProJet MP 3500 dental 3-D printer with 3Shape’s Dental System and CAMbridge for direct, high-speed, precision model production.”
3D printers such as the ProJet 3500 MP take digital design to the production stage right in the dental lab. These machines are merged with oral scanning and computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacturing (CAD/CAM) to enable efficient productivity of any type of restoration for clients—crowns, bridges, stone models, partial frameworks and a range of orthodontic appliances.
The technology is truly incredible. A crown procedure traditionally requires two different patient visits within a span of up to three weeks. The dentist numbs the area and files down the tooth to make space for the crown. He or she makes an impression of the tooth and then sends it to the lab. Meanwhile, the dentist covers the hole from the filed down tooth with a temporary crown for the patient’s two- to three-week waiting period.
Once the dental technician sends the replacement back to the dentist, the patient must return to the dentist for the crown completion. The dentist numbs the area again, removes the temporary filling and glues the crown in place.
3D printing technology has reduced this three-week-long process to a single, hour-long procedure. First, a camera scans the patient’s teeth. The digital scan is then sent to an on-site milling machine that carves the crown directly from a small cube of porcelain. About 15 minutes later, the crown is complete and ready to be implanted. You can check out the process here.
3D printing capability has encouraged many labs to transition to a digital workflow because it “has brought a high-impact solution to the dental field,” said Cathy Lewis, Chief Marketing Officer, 3DS. This technology is a precise, powerful and affordable manufacturing tool. Dental labs can increase part production while improving quality and precision with a single machine.
What value do you think 3D printers are adding to dental labs and technicians? How do you think a digital-focus will impact dental parts manufacturing in the future?