Orthodontics is an exciting field where technological advancements are making a big impact, benefiting both practitioners and patients. One innovation that is gaining significant traction is 3D printing, a revolutionary method of manufacturing dental appliances. Here is a look at how traditional construction methods compare to 3D printing and some of the benefits this technology provides.
Dental Manufacturing Methods
There are three main types of manufacturing used in dental appliances. Injection molding can be used for products that are required in large quantities because you can make a lot of items in a single session at a relatively low cost. This is appropriate for some commonly used dental devices but not for patient-specific appliances. Subtractive manufacturing creates 3D objects by milling from a solid block of material, either manually or via computer-controlled machine. Dental restorations such as crowns are often made using this process. The subtractive method is effective but tends to create large amounts of waste material. Finally, additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, refers to the process of building layers of material into a pre-designed solid object controlled by computer and involving little or no waste.
Benefits of 3D Printing
Here is a look at the benefits of 3D printing.
Precision and Customization
One of the main advantages of 3D printing is the precision and customization it offers. Traditional methods involve manual processes that are less accurate and more subject to errors. 3D printing can create highly accurate appliances tailored precisely to the patient’s unique anatomy. Using a combination of digital scanning with an intra-oral camera and computer aided design, precise digital models of patients’ dentition can be created, facilitating the production of appliances that fit seamlessly and comfortably. This level of customization enhances treatment outcomes and patient satisfaction, reducing the need for adjustments and minimizing discomfort during the orthodontic process. Complex shapes can be produced as easily as simple ones, allowing all patients to benefit from the technology.
Cost-effective and Efficient
Moving to digital scanning and 3D printing can produce efficiencies in many parts of the patient journey. Dispensing with traditional molds created with alginate frees up considerable time, in addition to being easier for the patient. A digital scan can be performed in less than 2 minutes, whereas creating impressions from molds can take time and may need to be repeated. There is also no need to purchase, store, prepare and dispose of materials needed for traditional molds.
In the manufacturing workflow, there are considerable efficiencies to be made in reduced time and use of materials. Digital file sharing enables greater collaboration between orthodontists, dental technicians and laboratories. This supports efficiency and reduces the likelihood of errors associated with manual data transfer. Additionally, 3D printing can contribute to cost-effectiveness in the long run. While the initial investment in 3D printing technology may be substantial, the reduction in material waste and labor costs, combined with increased output and quality, can result in significant savings over time.
Patient Engagement and Education
The visual nature of 3D printing technology is a great improvement in terms of patient engagement. Traditional models and molds can be challenging for patients to understand, leading to a lack of compliance with treatment plans. Digital scanning allows orthodontists to show patients how their teeth look, what the proposed treatment plan is, and the expected outcomes. Removing the need for creating alginate molds can be important for many patients who find this process uncomfortable. Together, these factors can greatly improve patient engagement and compliance over the course of the treatment program.
Materials Diversity and Innovation
3D printing in orthodontics opens up a world of possibilities in terms of materials. Traditional methods often rely on a limited range of materials, which have inherent limitations when it comes to strength, durability and biocompatibility. 3D printing allows for the use of a wide array of materials, including advanced polymers and biocompatible resins. This material versatility supports efforts to improve quality and patient experience, in addition to improving the longevity and effectiveness of dental appliances. Moreover, ongoing advancements in 3D printing materials present opportunities for continuous innovation in the field of orthodontics, allowing practitioners to stay at the forefront of technological developments.
The integration of 3D printing technology into orthodontics marks a significant step forward in the quest for precision, efficiency, and patient satisfaction. The advantages of 3D printing over traditional methods are evident in its ability to offer precision, improve quality, streamline workflows and increase efficiency.
As the technology continues to evolve, dental practitioners may consider how 3D printing could transform their practice and enhance the quality of care for patients. The American Dental Association has produced a report examining 3D printing in dental fabrication, highlighting its significant advantages. (1) It has also created a 3D printing guide (2) containing advice and guidance on a range of issues for dentists to consider.