3D printing: Revolution in dentistry

By Dr George Freedman, Canada
October 05, 2021

3D printing has arrived in dentistry. Like with the other great paradigm shifts of the past 50 years in the profession (cosmetic dentistry, implants and diagnostics), major advances are very apparent on the near horizon. The needs are many, the technologies numerous, the applications almost unlimited and the potential open-ended. Just like cosmetic materials and techniques brought aesthetic restorative dentistry into the hands of every practitioner, 3D printing promises to bring functional and artistic control of the restorative process into the chairside setting.

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.

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 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.

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 articial 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 xation 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, accurate and signicantly 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.

Welcome to 3D printing! Welcome to the future of dentistry!

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