The medical applications of 3D printing technology are widening every day with an increasing number of people becoming careful about their dental health. How 3D printing can help healthcare became even more popular when people realised how 3D printing was helping fight Covid-19.

Digital dentistry is about half a century old, around 1971. It started out with computer-based analysis and slowly began offering insights to doctors for diagnosis and surgery. Today, the FDA uses Research, Regulate and Resource – known as the 3 R’s of 3D printing – to better define their role of the regulatory agency. 

In this post, we look at the 5 top 3D printed dental applications.

1. 3D Dental implants

3D printing in dentistry is helping doctors diagnose better and faster, and making patients heal earlier too.

Because they are surgically placed into the jawbone, dental implants decide both the medical and cosmetic outcomes of dental procedures. In earlier days, the conventional machines and mechanisms used could not accurately factor in the unique teeth size, locations and condition of patients. As a result, dental implants left a lot to be desired.

Today, dental implants have improved dramatically, thanks a lot to the accurate results of scans. After a digital scan 3D, a dentist will be able to virtually begin printing the required implant immediately. What’s more they can even be tested easily.

Because of the improved 3D modeling and scanning, the 3D printing technology can produce dental implants with an advanced level of detailing that match the complex structure of the jaw.

2. 3D Dentures

A long time back, losing one’s teeth was mostly followed by the onset of long illness and death. Even when dentures became available, poor matching of size and the contours of the patient’s face made them unattractive for most. Soon, custom-made dentures were available, but they had their own limitations.  

Today, 3D printing equipment has become reliable and made dentures more affordable. Full-mouth dentures for patients of all ages are becoming increasingly popular.  The use of dental resin, especially, has found more acceptance.

A not-so-obvious benefit of 3D printed dentures is that the time-saving available (due to in-house 3D printing dental facilities for hospitals or clinics) also makes it cost-effective. As a result, more and more patients are both willing and able to access dental treatment.

3. 3D printed crowns

Dental crowns are essentially the hat your teeth wears on the top. They cover and protect your teeth. What’s more it can also restore the ship of your teeth. And finally, one of their most popular usages is to fill gaps and mend chipped teeth. Because they don’t need any special care after fitment, they are an important component of dental fittings.

If you have the 3D printer ready, you can actually 3D print a crown in-house. Approved quality material (wax or resins) can easily be used to instantly print crowns. These crowns, backed by accurate measurements, will fit into the patient’s jaw very comfortably. Factors like finishing, fitting and customisation make 3D dental crowns a better choice over traditional crowns.

4. 3D aligners

Clear aligners are transparent, nearly invisible devices used to adjust your teeth at a spacing that is suggested by your dentist and agreed upon by you. Wikipedia cites a source that says the average treatment time is 13.5 months, which makes the quality, finishing and aesthetics of clear aligners extremely important. 

Companies like Invisalign have both popularised and hugely improved 3D aligners. Using a specialized scanner, your doctor will take a swift but accurate 3D digital scan of your teeth. Based on that, the dentist will decide what’s the best treatment and approach to achieve the desired results. After that, the aligners are printed. 

And you’ll be surprised to find that this 3D printing in dentistry can be completed in under an hour. That means that by the time you finish the formalities and hang on a little longer, your set of aligners will be ready at the dentist’s, without having to wait for a week or two.

5. 3D printed teeth

Ok, so you’re a dentist who really loves technology and so you’re keen to use 3D printed teeth for your patients. 

The first question, of course, is whether the artificial teeth will serve the purpose and will they be sturdy? A subsequent question most non-professionals miss is whether these artificial teeth will look natural. Would these teeth, for instance, have the right opacity?

Things have changed drastically with the advent of dental 3D printing, as the company SprintRay’s guide to 3D printed teeth reports. All these printed teeth, whether a single-unit or multi-unit replacement, exhibit all the aesthetic, medical and engineering features you’d want.

More dental care professionals than ever are having a 3D printer in house. Patients get their 3D printed teeth at a very low cost and quickly too. The best part is that such products are available on-the-spot, making sure everything is wrapped up in a single visit to the dentist.

The challenges to 3D printing in medical applications

Medicine has recently been leaning on technology for advances; for instance, advanced technology in pharmaceutical industry is nothing new.

Despite all the advances, 3D printing in medical applications is still sitting at the intersection of medical science, printing technology and computers. 

Just like any other promising technology, dental 3D printing too has its own set of challenges. Here are the three principal ones:

1. One of the biggest questions was the side-effects of 3D printing resins in dental devices. According to the findings of Northwestern Medicine, as quoted in EurekAlert, two commercially available 3D-printable resins, “… readily leach compounds into their surroundings.” This, the article further reports, can negatively impact the reproductive health of patients.

2. The currently used High Frequency Ultrasound (HFUS) need improvement, considering that factors like moisture in the patient’s mouth is impacting its accuracy of measurements.

3. There’s still some lack of clarity with FDA guidelines. Most medical device manufacturers and 3D printer suppliers agree that the agency isn’t changing as quickly as the technology.

Featured image: Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash