For decades, clinicians have relied on dental materials in the care of their patients. These materials have been continuously refined by researchers, simplifying their application, improving their aesthetics, and expanding their longevity. Today, research and development concentrates on the processes used in dentistry, and digital solutions have become more pervasive in daily patient care. One such example of digital dentistry is three-dimensional (3D) printing.
Despite being invented in the 1980s, 3D printing has only recently been accepted as a technology applicable to dentistry, and it will certainly be interesting to see its growth as it becomes more frequently applied. As 3D printing and the digital workflow continue to influence patient diagnosis and treatment, dental students are on the cusp of having these technologies become mainstays of their education and future practices. Dr. Perry Jones’ recent webinar for THE NEXTDDS, “Digital Scanning in Invisalign Therapy & Implant Dentistry”, offers some insight on how this digital technology works.
What is 3D Printing?
As opposed to the subtraction process involved in milling blocks (zirconia, lithium disilicate, etc.), 3D printing is an additive manufacturing process. Using plastics and polymer, materials are cured by several different methods of laser technology, processed differently depending on printer. A 3D printer starts from the bottom up, building thin layers bit by bit as each preceding polymer layer is cured, dried, and solidified. At present, 3D printing can produce objects from liquids, solids, powders, and even human tissue!
Three-dimensional printing is accomplished through three primary methods:
- Stereolithography (SLA);
- Digital light process (DLP), and
- Material jetting.
With an SLA printer, a laser is projected against a scanning mirror and directed downwards into a container of liquid resin to cure the material. A DLP printer works in much the same way, instead using a projector instead of a laser source to cure the polymer. Material jetting, or polyjet printing, starts with a tank filled with liquid resin. The liquid is carried by a sophisticated system of tubes to a series of print heads in an extruder, which jets the material onto a platform. Lasers pass by the curing light system to cure the material in successive layers.
The Potential for 3D Printing
In dentistry, 3D printing technology erases the need for stone gypsum. Instead, those materials are replaced with more reliable zirconium and polymer materials, which are stronger than stone, more accurate and durable, and lower in material and labor costs. Some of the patient-specific restorations that can be fabricated with 3D printing include full-arch and canine-to-canine retainers, surgical prosthetic guides, pontic and sleep appliances, removable partial dentures, minor tooth movement, occlusal guards and athletic mouthguards, bleaching trays, and provisional matrix appliances.
The consumerization of healthcare means that patients want greater convenience and comfort when it comes to their dental care. Digital dentistry and other rapidly evolving technologies allow treatment to be more efficient and consistent for both the practitioner and the patient. As the development of these technologies continue, practitioners will have a first-hand opportunity to witness a revolution in the way dentistry is practiced.
To learn more about 3D digital scanning, listen to the rest of Dr. Perry Jones’ webinar here.