Many experts are now referring to 3D printing as the next ‘industrial revolution.’ 3D printing, or Additive Manufacturing, is a process that allows for the creation of a physical object by means of a three-dimensional digital model file. The object is created by laying down thin layers of material, consecutively. This revolutionary printing technology is transforming the way that prototypes and products are produced in numerous industries, one of which is the dental industry. Many dental professionals like orthodontists, pediatric dentists, and general dentists are taking advantage of 3D Printing for dentistry.

Using 3D Printing for Dentistry Can Improve Patient Experiences

With 3D printing, highly manual processes can be accomplished through digital dentistry. By reducing the number of manual processes, dental professionals can spend more time concentrating on providing their patients with exceptional care and a pleasant office experience. Furthermore, the use of digital dental models reduces delivery times because there is no need to ship out a model to the lab. In addition, this revolutionary technology helps streamline in-house workflow, while achieving a more accurate output. Using additive manufacturing saves time, lowers equipment costs and boosts operations, all of which provide you with an improved competitive advantage.

Parents and patients place great value on digital impressions, using a streamlined wand-like intraoral scanner instead of gooey alginate makes a world of a difference. Patients with gag-reflex, smaller mouths (very common for pediatric dentists and orthodontists), and special needs greatly benefit for 3D printing in dentistry.  The process of taking an intraoral scan is very straight forward, can take less time, and allows the dental assistant to correct any mistakes in real time which greatly reduces the need for repeat appointments for alginate impression retakes. In addition, the laboratory can repair, in most cases, any missing data from a scan which, again, reduces the need for repeat impression appointments.

3D Printing in Orthodontics – The a Three Stage Process

3D printing is the last of a three stage process, without intraoral scanning technology and industry specific CAD-CAM software 3D printing in orthodontics would not happen. The confluence of these three technologies was opened a new real of possibilities in patient care a dental appliance design

The Scanning Process

Intraoral scanners are slowly replacing the age old process of taking alginate impressions. Even though, alginate could still be used in certain situations, the industry is rapidly adopting scanning and other digital technologies. In lay terms, an intraoral scanner takes pictures of the patient’s teeth and soft tissue and “stiches” those pictures together, in the right order, to create a digital rendition of the patient’s mouth. Most intraoral scanners have proprietary online platforms to manage the scanner workflow and enable exporting these files to your lab. OrthoDenco has a direct link with scanners like Itero, Trios, and True Definition which allows for a direct-lab-export of any given file, this direct link feature streamlines the workflow as the staff does not have to download and upload files which can be time consuming given the variability of performance in broad band speed.

In addition to having a direct link with the most influential scanner brands, OrthoDenco also provides a cloud-based solution to improve your workflow. The state-of-the-art HIPAA compliant cloud application has been specifically developed for orthodontists, its intuitive design and layout make it very easy to sue and its graphics allow the user to avoid doodles and misunderstanding with the lab. In addition, a great variety of files can be attached to the prescription, including patient scans. The application also has integration with many office management software solutions like Dolphin. Once a paperless prescription has been created, it stays saved in the cloud indefinitely so the practice does not have to worry about storage fees or storage backups.

On the other hand, if the practice has not acquired an intraoral scanner, OrthoDenco has scanning technology that can transform stone models or alginate impression into a digital file. Once a file has been created, the process can continue with the CAD-CAM software to prepare these files to be printed or to design appliances like OrthoDenco’s Progressive Clear Aligner System (PCAS), Spring Aligners, and Tres clear retainer system.

Even though digital technology is slowly replacing alginate impressions, highly skilled dental assistants and dental practitioners are still at the core of the process and are vital for great results weather one uses alginate or an intraoral scanner. Digital technology cannot replace the years of training and anecdotal experience dental professionals and their staff have acquired, instead, digital enhances the treatment options that could be offered to a patient under the direct care and supervision of a licensed dental practitioner and her experienced team.

Designing a  Dental Appliance Using 3D Printing in Orthodontics

Once OrthoDenco receives or creates a patient’s file, the next step is to straighten and correct tooth positioning and prepare the files to be printed. This process takes several steps and requires for dental technicians to learn about CAD-CAM technology.

While correcting tooth positioning, the technician has multiple measuring and comparative tools at her disposal. Also, if any mistakes take place or the technician wants to reverse course, a simple key stroke gets the job done. In that sense digital has become a great tool in designing aligners as the final product is more predictable and accurate. In addition, the dental professional gets a report with every case which outlines the range of movement and amount of interproximal reduction (IPR) needed for each tooth.  Once the design stage has finished, the files are exported to be 3D printed.

Printing the Digital Model

The final stage of the process is to send the files to print. Once the digital files have been exported to the 3D printer’s software, the files need to be properly arranged on the printing platform. This process is of outmost importance because mistakes in file preparation or placement on the print platform can cause a print failure. Depending on the print volume, the average print job can take 4 to 8 hours so a failed print can cause a lot of delays.

Three CAD Software Technologies Frequently Used to Create Polymer-Based Dental Products

Three technologies are used in 3D printing for dentistry. Each technology effectively cures the photoreactive liquid resin using some type of light source. During these processes, thin layers of resin create the dental model using the specific information that was previously collected from the patient, model or impression.

Digital Light Processing/Projection

Digital Light Processing/Projection (DLP) uses a digital projector screen. This is the same technology that is used in rear projection televisions, classrooms and cinemas. When a lamp or projector is used, the UV light is projected over a vat containing photopolymer resin. One completed slice of the CAD model is cast on the resin. The light flashes across the entire printed area at the same time to harden the object being created. Therefore, the 3D object is created much faster than is possible with other point-to-point technologies.

When a DLA 3D printer uses a laser, individual layers of the digital model are drawn onto the resin while a print bed is lowered and raised (depending on the location of the light source to the vat). Although DLP printers can be used with a variety of materials, their build volume is somewhat small.

Stereolithography

The stereolithography (SL or SLA) procedure involves the selective exposure of a vat of photopolymer liquid resin to a laser: The resin is solidified as the laser moves from one side of the print area to the other. Inverse SLA printers are the most widely used type of 3D desktop printers. An inverse SLA’s laser shines through the clear bottom of its resin tank.

SLA creates a highly accurate model, allows for the use of a wide range of materials and offers a large build volume.

Material Jetting

The way Material Jetting 3D printers work is comparable to inkjet printing; however, photopolymers are used instead of ink. As a Material Jetting 3D printer creates the dental model, it jets layers of liquid resin onto a tray. These layers of resin are cured instantly with a UV light. While these 3D printers were extremely common in the dental industry several years ago, once SLA and DLP systems became available, Material Jetting technologies fell out of favor.

Material Jetting systems offer a high throughput; however, they also have a limited application range (due to expensive propriety materials) and a larger footprint than the DLP, and SLA systems do.

Benefits of Using Digital Models and Storing Them in OrthoDenco’s Cloud Platform

Lack of storage space is one of the problems that many practices experience and, while plaster study models have offered numerous benefits, digital models are now a viable alternative to the traditional physical models. Once a digital model is created, it does not require physical storage; instead, the digital models are safely stored in OrthoDenco’s HIPAA compliant cloud, which makes 3D Printing for Orthodontics a very desirable option.

You can easily access your information once it is in our cloud platform. Furthermore, OrthoDenco’s cloud platform helps you keep your files organized. Another benefit of using a cloud platform is that you can access your patients’ records and collaborate with your colleagues wherever there is an internet connection. Contact OrthoDenco today to learn more about how we can help you take advantage of 3D Printing in Orthodontics.