Technology is Making Progress
What can you make with a 3D printer? Honestly, it’s easier to list what you can’t make! House keys, smart wallets, adjustable wrenches, toothpaste tube squeezers, fishing lures, dinnerware, record albums, high heels, replacement car parts, synthetic limbs, and even office buildings can all be made from a printer. All you need is the printer, the right materials, and a software model.
It’s no wonder that so many people see potential for this technology in dentistry. Getting a 3D model of your teeth can help your dentist take a much closer look at your overall mouth. Do you need mouthguards or whitening trays? With 3D printing, it can be done! Even toothbrushes can be 3D printed. But what about more permanent items like crowns, dentures, implants or braces — can our Placerville dental office use 3D printing for those dental items?
Choose Your Resin Wisely
A 3D printer uses a liquid or pliable material called resin for printing objects. The printer lays down and manipulates the resin into the desired shape. Most resins have a variety of pros and cons. For instance, some are very durable, but toxic to the human body. Others are safe for organic use, but cannot hold a rigid shape. Others require additional substances to maintain their form, making them more expensive or complicated to use. When choosing a resin, it’s important to consider how the product will be used, in what conditions, and for how long the object must last.
For example, for use in the dental industry, 3D printers, their resins, and their products, need to pass three specific criteria:
- Safety — The resin must be safe to use in the human body without side effects. Also, the printing process must be safe to use in a dental lab, so that dental employees or technicians are not harmed.
- Durability — The resins must be able to keep their shape for six months or more in the moist, warm environment of the mouth. Most of these materials are meant for use in dry places, or only for intermittent use. Restorative dentistry items need to be strong, rigid, and comparable to the original teeth.
- Cost — Most 3D printers have an enormous initial cost, and biosafe resins are amongst the most expensive on the market.
In past years, many companies put considerable effort into researching and developing 3D printing materials to meet these criteria for the dental industry. As a result, there are 3D printers that offer safe printing techniques for dentistry, using biocompatible materials. These items, however, are still in their developmental infancy.
In addition, the proper authorities must first approve these processes and materials (such as the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). Therefore, some 3D printing resins are considered “FDA exempt,” meaning they use materials tested for biocompatibility. Others are “FDA listed,” indicating the manufacturer completed an online listing of their product with the FDA, but has possibly not received any approval for its intended use. A few are “FDA cleared,” meaning they are effectively equivalent to a legally marketed dental device. As for the American Dental Association (ADA), they have yet to approve 3D printed dental materials, an important point for consideration.
Time and Money for 3D Printing in Dentistry
3D printing of bridges, aligning trays, and implant crowns would likely reduce the time it takes for any of these procedures — what typically requires multiple visits over days or weeks might be accomplished in a matter of hours. Yet, adopting this technology is an enormous investment both at the start and as time goes on. And right now, approval ratings for the materials used are simply unsatisfactory — meaning the Placerville Dental Group does not foresee using 3D printing for dental products in the immediate future.
Conclusion: 3D Printing is Almost There
Yes, 3D printing of some dental products exists, is under investigation, and is already sold in some cases. As the technology continues to develop safer, more reliable, and more cost-effective products, 3D printing will likely be used more extensively by dental offices. Right now, our dentists’ use of this technology is held in check by our concern for your safety and health.