Some cutting edge dental laboratories have adopted 3D printing technology to improve efficiency and production accuracy. These printers can be used to replace the traditional process for fabricating models out of stone or plaster. Wax forms can be 3D printed for the lost wax casting technique versus manually waxing. 3D Printers are being used in the fabrication of implant surgical guides. And of course in the all-digital workflow for crown & bridge and implant restoration, a physical model can be printed from the digital impression STL file whenever desired. Using 3D printing in the dental laboratory can reduce man hours while having positive impacts on production efficiency and precision.
But what about the dental practice? Will we see a time when a 3D printer is commonplace in general dental and orthodontic practices? As digital impression technologies continue to gain adoption, 3D printer manufacturers reduce equipment footprint, and materials engineers create a wider array of printable, biocompatible options, the answer just very well may be “yes”. Imagine the possibilities. Take a digital impression and print a study model for aid in treatment planning. In the orthodontic practice, a set of before and after models could be printed. Using design software, one would show the current teeth alignment, and another would simulate position after treatment. Such models could be used in the general dental practice to use in treatment plan presentation for large-scale restorative and cosmetic cases. Imagine the dentist being able to send such models home with the patient to help them discuss the proposed treatment with spouse or partner. For those without in-office milling capabilities, imagine being able to print temporary restorations. And perhaps one day in the not too distant future, printable material and curing technologies will advance to allow 3D printing to replace milling as a fabrication option for permanent prosthetics in the dental practice.
It is an exciting time to be in the dental industry. Digital imaging technologies and new modeling & fabrication equipment are enabling the digital workflow, improving precision, and helping dental laboratories and practices make efficiency gains. However, the ultimate beneficiary of these technique advancements is the patient. That’s what I call a true win-win-win.
Are you using 3D printing technology? What is your take on the rapid advancement of such technologies in the dental industry? Please leave a comment to let me know what you think.