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As the additive manufacturing (3D printing) market continues to expand, it brings this revolutionary technological advancement to the threshold of more businesses and numerous industries. As such, the benefits of additive manufacturing are being enjoyed by dental patients across the globe.

3D Printing in the Dental Industry

The benefits of 3D printing are making digital dentistry a practical business choice for dentists and orthodontists alike. In addition to helping streamline workflow, additive manufacturing offers dental professionals quality products with low unit costs. Furthermore, due to the precision and speed with which 3D printing creates dental appliances, patients receive their properly-fitting product much quicker than ever before, with fewer visits for adjustments; thus, improving patient experiences and maintaining the practice’s excellent reputation within the community.

Types of 3D Printing

There are three additive manufacturing technologies frequently being used in dentistry: material jetting, stereolithography and digital light processing. Each of these technologies offers the accuracy and precision that is necessary for dental applications; however, quality among these three manufacturing technologies varies.

3D printing technologies, explained:

  • Material Jetting (MultiJet and PolyJet Modeling): The way this type of 3D printer creates an appliance can be compared to inkjet printing. Whereas an inkjet printer can recreate a digital image by propelling droplets of ink onto paper, plastic or some other substrate, a 3D material jetting printer jets liquid resin onto a build tray. This process builds layer upon layer of resin to recreate an image, curing the liquid resin instantly with light.
  • Stereolithography (SLA): This form of 3D printing is extremely accurate and offers the smoothest outer finish of the additive manufacturing technologies available today. During the SLA printing process, liquid resin is used. The liquid resin is in a vat and a laser beam moves across specific areas of the resin, solidifying it as it crosses over the print area. Stereolithography printers can be used for a variety of applications as well as with numerous types of materials.
  • Digital Light Processing (DLP): Stereolithography and DLP use an identical chemical process; however, they do not use the same light source. Instead of a laser beam, DLP uses a digital projector to cure the resin. The outer surfaces of the products created using digital light processing are usually of lesser quality when compared to those created using the SLA 3D printing process.

The Progression of 3D Printing in the Dental Industry

Initially, material jetting additive manufacturing technologies were used extensively within the dental industry; however, the ability to expand is limited, the machines are expensive and quite large. In addition, a substantial amount of post-processing is required and the outer finish of the parts produced using the material jetting process tend to be inferior to the stereolithography and digital light processing technologies that are available. Furthermore, although the material jetting systems offer a high throughput, due to the expensive propriety materials necessary for creating products using this technology, material jetting is only a practical choice for a few dental applications. Therefore, the dental and orthodontic appliances created today are usually made using the SLA or DLP 3D printing technologies.

In-House Dental 3D Printing vs. Outsourcing

Before investing in any type of Digital Orthodontic Laboratory service or 3D printing machine, make sure that adopting new technology makes sense for your practice.

In-House Printing: Cost and Return on Investment (ROI)

Choosing to invest in a 3D printer means training current staff members and/or hiring additional employees, which takes time. Should a trained staff member fall ill, choose to accept a position elsewhere or retire, a new employee will need to be trained to take his or her place. During the training phase, some of the materials that are used for printing will most likely need to be discarded, which can be costly.

The quality of 3D printing machines and systems varies greatly. Taking the time to evaluate each option and judge which equipment will serve your practice best is essential.

Before investing in any type of equipment, consider:

  • Operating costs (estimate using your per-unit material cost)
  • Initial costs (including setup, software, training and machine cost)
  • Maintenance and servicing costs, which may include expensive compulsory service contracts: Some clients are required to pay 20 percent of their initial start-up costs annually

Each of the factors listed above directly impact how fast a practice can make an ROI for their in-house 3D printing equipment.

Applications and Materials – In-House 3D Printing Options

Professional additive manufacturing printers offer adaptability. The key to this adaptability lies in the use of dedicated materials. Material selection depends on the model of the printer being used. While some printers are designed to produce relatively simple orthodontic models, other 3D printers are more advanced. These advanced printers can manufacture extremely precise bridge and crown models, retainers, splints, dentures, surgical guides as well as pressable/castable restorations.

Whereas some additive manufacturing printers have limited options when it comes to materials, others offer an open system.

The difference between a ‘limited material’ and ‘open system’ 3D printer:

  • Limited material options: When materials are limited, the printer will only operate with what are referred to as ‘propriety materials.’ Propriety materials are materials that must be purchased from the printer’s manufacturer.
  • Open system: With an open system 3D printer, materials can be purchased from third party manufacturers; however, when purchasing materials from a third party, dental professionals must ensure that the product created from these materials offers the quality and precision required to be considered clinically acceptable.

Although at first glance it may seem beneficial to invest in a 3D printing machine, hiring a 3D-printing service eliminates the need to purchase equipment, train, and/or hire new employees, pay for expensive compulsory service contracts, worry about potential repair/maintenance issues and order the special materials necessary to create orthodontic appliances.

Orthodontists who do not have the resources necessary to design and fully understand the 3D printing process and the specifics of the printer should consider outsourcing for their orthodontic appliance part production. In addition to ensuring the creation of a quality product, outsourcing may minimize risk by compensating for the expertise or resources that do not exist at the practice.

Benefits of Outsourcing

By outsourcing your 3D printing to a Digital Orthodontics Laboratory, you have access to a variety of 3D printing materials and types of additive manufacturing without the need to purchase expensive industrial manufacturing equipment, find a place to put it and then train your staff members so they know how to use it. With outsourcing, you save time and money because your office just takes the intraoral scan, leaving production of the appliance up to the Digital Orthodontics Laboratory.

The OrthoDenco Difference

The skilled technicians at OrthoDenco take pride in each orthodontic appliance they create, which is why our orthodontic products are highly-revered. Orthodontists all over the Continental U.S., in the Caribbean and Latin America choose OrthoDenco as their Digital Orthodontic Laboratory because they know that we are dedicated to helping them provide each of their patients with the high-quality, comfortably-fitting orthodontic appliance that they deserve. In addition, the appliances we create are cost-effective and arrive in a timely manner.

A HIPPA-Compliant Cloud Application

Our HIPPA-compliant, state-of-the-art cloud application is specifically designed for orthodontists. Ease of use, excellent graphics and an intuitive design reduce the likelihood of misunderstandings, greatly improving the workflow of our clients. In addition, this application easily integrates with many of the office management software solutions being used in orthodontic offices today. Furthermore, when uploading to the cloud, patient scans can be attached to their paperless prescriptions and once a paperless prescription is created, it remains in our cloud indefinitely; therefore, your practice never has to worry about backups or paying storage fees.

To learn more about the world of 3D printing and how it is being utilized throughout the dental industry, contact OrthoDenco Digital Orthodontic Laboratory today at 1-800-315-8829. With 35 years of experience and 400 active accounts, we have the experience, stellar reputation and innovative 3D printing equipment necessary to meet all of your additive manufacturing needs.