In 1988, we saw how the inkjet printer impacted our homes and our businesses, as that was the year this technology became a big consumer item. Now we look at the latest development in the printing industry—3D printing—and try to understand how it will transform our lives just like the inkjet printer did.
While this technology has yet to enter our homes, it is beginning to establish itself in our businesses—the dental industry being our prime example here.
What can you make with a 3D printer that would be relevant in dentistry? Just your basic dental needs: teeth aligners for everyday use, dental implants, bridges, stone models, dental crowns and an assortment of orthodontic appliances you may not even realize you needed.
For a clearer understanding of 3D printing and how any of this is possible, see Stratasys’s video about their Objet30 OrthoDesk.
Impressive technology, isn’t it? Now you might be starting to understand the scope of the possibilities of 3D printing in the dental industry.
There are three areas 3D printing will impact in the field of dentistry: dental offices, dental labs and patients.
The use of 3D printing in dental offices will ultimately cut costs, grow patients and save time. Currently, any time a dental implant or crown or bridge is needed, a dental office orders the material from a dental lab, waits for it to be produced and then waits for it to be shipped back to the dental office.
This is a lengthy process and one that is not cost-effective. Alternatively, if dental offices were to purchase their own 3D printer, or contract a dental lab that uses 3D printers, to print their own material, the production time is cut drastically—making the wait time for their patients significantly less—and one would think the cost over time, as well.
One orthopedic surgeon found that using CT scans and 3D printing to develop 3D models could be done at a tenth of the cost of the traditional methods—sending out the order to a dental lab to create and ship the products back to you.
Of course, training would need to be a part of the initial costs so you have employees in-house who know how to use the machine, but there are several software companies out there today that have simplified this process for all parties involved.
To take you through the process if you are unfamiliar with this technology: A picture of the teeth is taken and uploaded to whatever software program a dental office has. Once the model has been uploaded to the computer, the dentist or dental hygienist can access the program and adjust/alter the model however they need to. They would then send the design on to the printer or dental lab for printing. And instead of waiting two weeks or so for the product to be made, it’s only a matter of hours before it is ready.
While some may believe that the future of dental labs looks bleak, they still have a fighting chance in this new industry environment. There will still be many dental offices that will not want to pay the upfront costs of purchasing this technology and training someone in-house to work it. That is where dental labs come in.
Surviving in this new industry is going to be all about marketability, in my opinion. Does your company have the expertise and the equipment for 3D printing? Will you be able to offer your clients quick return in 3D printed products?
Adopting 3D printing in your lab and marketing that feature to your clients and potential clients will put you ahead of your competitors. While some may still be using traditional methods of developing these models and varying dental products, you’ll be ahead of the game with a faster and more efficient machine. Instead of producing a few molds every couple of hours, you’ll be able to produce 20 or so at a time.
Tired of having to wait two weeks to get your crown put in after your dentist takes the original impression? With 3D printing, you won’t have to wait that long. With this new technology, dentists can use a 3D scanner to take a picture of your teeth that then uploads the image of your mouth into their software and sends it to the printer. It will be printed and ready to go in about an hour.
What this also means is no longer sitting uncomfortably in the dentist chair getting a physical impression made of your teeth—a process that is both uncomfortable and somewhat painful. The mold of your teeth can be captured by a small camera/3D scanner.
As you can see, 3D printing is destined to change the dental industry. As dentists, it will affect your practice and how quickly and efficiently you’ll be able to operate; as a dental lab, it will affect how you market to your clients; and as a patient, it may affect which dentist you choose—one who has adopted this new technology that allows for more comfortable diagnosis and faster results or one who still uses more traditional methods. Based on research and development in 3D printing, how do you see it reshaping dentistry? Please share in the comment section below.