3D printing in dentistry: Revolution in progress
3D dental printing today is reminiscent of cosmetic dentistry in the early 1980s: the needs are many, the technologies are numerous, the applications almost unlimited and the potential open-ended. Just as cosmetic materials and techniques brought aesthetic restorative dentistry into the hands of every practitioner, 3D printing promises to bring the functional and artistic control of the restorative process into the chairside setting.
Stereolithography, first developed in the 1980s, was soon followed by additive manufacturing, the deposition of material in increments. Dental applications are more recent. 3D printing has been utilised for rapid prototyping and modelling for more than a decade. The size and cost of the earlier printers meant that they were limited to larger laboratories.
The digital transformation of dentistry, including CBCT, intra-oral and extra-oral scanning, milling of ceramic and composite materials, and robotic implant placement, is firmly established. Linking with these advances, the most recent desktop printers have a much smaller footprint, are easily affordable for the single practitioner, communicate with existing software platforms and offer high levels of precision with a wide range of materials.
Current 3D printers are fully capable of managing the great demand for temporary, transitional, and permanent restorations and appliances and of achieving the clinical excellence required by the dental profession. Consequently, there has been a growing acceptance of this transformative technology. Increasingly, 3D printing is viewed as an industry game-changer and a forecast of the future direction of the dental practice.
3D-printing techniques include stereolithography, fused deposition modelling, selective laser sintering, powder binder printing, photopolymer jetting, electron beam melting and direct light processing. These currently unfamiliar names will soon become standard dental terminology.
The documented, wide-ranging 3D printing applications can be grouped by treatment category:
- Fixed prosthodontics: Permanent and provisional indirect restorations (crowns, onlays, inlays, bridges) and permanent monobloc direct restorations can all be custom-fabricated chairside within minutes of scanning the preparation.
- Removable prosthodontics: Both complete and partial dentures, including digital occlusal design, are deliverable within hours.
- Implant dentistry: 3D printing of surgical guides has facilitated ideal implant positioning. Biomimetic custom 3D-printed bone implants replace missing segments, minimising stress transfer to the remaining bone.
- Orthodontics: Aligners, designed using CBCT data and artificial intelligence extrapolation of tooth movement over time, are 3D-printed.
- Endodontics: The pioneering 3D-printed endodontic access guide, utilising CBCT data, translates pre-surgical planning into clinical success.
- Maxillofacial surgery: Custom-designed bone grafts and fixation plates expedite both the surgical procedure and the healing process.
- Periodontics: 3D-printed guides that relieve and retract gingival margins offer aesthetic gingival correction. Soft-tissue printing is currently in the research phase.
3D-printing techniques and procedures are high-quality, high precision and accurate and significantly lower in cost than conventional treatment options. Dentists save money: many desktop printers cost between US$3,000 and US$10,000, and dental 3D-printing materials cost pennies per tooth. Patients save money, by the elimination of intermediate procedures and transportation costs. Treatment is faster, typically same-day services.
Launch of first dental 3D printing magazine
I have the pleasure of introducing Dental Tribune International’s (DTI) new 3D printing―international magazine of dental printing technology, which aims to be one of the primary sources of information about the use of additive technology in dentistry. This is the first publication in DTI’s portfolio to focus on 3D printing. It is also the first magazine in the dental industry to deal exclusively with this topic. The first issue of 3D printing will appear at the end of November 2021.
Welcome to 3D printing! Welcome to the future of dentistry.