From plastic figurines to entire houses, it seems that there is little that can’t be printed by a 3D printer. The possibilities seem endless but the options don’t just end at plastic and brick. There also seems to be opportunities in the medical world to help medics improve surgery, replace organ transplantation and even improve limb prosthesis. The dental world has been making use of this technology for some time now and has allowed dentists to make highly customised models, dentures and fillings for patients. In the not too distant future, it will be possible to print teeth and repair existing damage with biological tissue.
Brace fittings can be an uncomfortable experience. The mould in itself is filled with a putty-like substance which is then pressed into the roof of the mouth. 3D printing provides a viable alternative to moulds by using an intra-oral scanner to generate a perfect digital image of each individual tooth. Through CAD technology, the dentist can then produce customised braces at a fraction of the cost and in less time than it takes to do it the traditional way. Having an accurate digital snapshot can allow dental staff to provide the very best treatment that is tailored to the patient’s needs.
In 2008, the first prosthetic leg was printed. Fast forward 11 years and in 2019, the first ever 3D beating heart was created. The rate at which this technology is growing is astounding and it’s little surprise that the technology has been used already in dentistry. Studies have been conducted to trial the use of bioprinting dental pulp using stem cells. This could mean that one day we might be able to print teeth made from the patient’s very own tissues. It sounds like something from a science fiction novel but researchers have demonstrated that this science may not be too far in the future.
Now that we have the technology to produce crowns and dentures, why stop there? It is also possible to produce surgical tools, which if made in-house, can cut costs even further. From drill guides to surgical tools, we can now print with metal, ceramics and plastic, the possibilities are endless. Not only can 3D printing personalise care for patients, it may also be possible to create personalised tools for dentists and nurses that are built around their hand shape. It could also limit waste too by avoiding bulk orders of tools since practices can print as and when they need items.
This technology comes with many benefits. Not only does 3D printing improve accuracy but it cuts the costs for both dentists and their patients. Running a dental laboratory can be expensive and relying on external companies can also add to costs. Although the initial cost of a 3D printer can set your practice back tens of thousands of pounds, the printer pays itself off rather quickly. The speed at which procedures take can also be reduced as most procedures will no longer rely on 3rd parties to analyse and produce products on the surgeries behalf. Dental 3D printing may soon become a regular technology that no dental team can be without.