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The use of 3D printing in the dental industry continues to rise; however, recognizing the many benefits that 3D printing offers to patients and dental practices requires comparing this method of appliance creation to the two conventional manufacturing processes, injection molding and subtractive molding.

The differences between traditional manufacturing and 3D Printing

  • Injection Molding: Although initial product prototypes can be created using the injection molding process, this type of manufacturing is typically used for mass production. The injection molding process is ideal for sequentially producing an identical piece thousands (or even millions) of times during a single manufacturing session (i.e., dental devices and sensors). Therefore, injection molding is not considered an efficient manufacturing process for creating one-of-a-kind orthodontic appliances.
  • Subtractive Manufacturing: During the subtractive manufacturing process, a 3D object is created by repeatedly cutting away from a solid block of material (i.e., composite resins, acrylic, lithium disilicate, etc.). This milling process can be performed manually or via a Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine. While this process is effective, it is a subtractive process; therefore, material is wasted. The dental industry has become extremely advanced in this fabrication method which is widely used in the creation of dental restorations like crowns.
  • 3D Printing (i.e., Additive Manufacturing): The 3D printing process, which is also referred to as additive manufacturing (AM), is the term used to describe a process designed to create 3-dimensional solid objects using a computer file. This method is considered additive manufacturing because the 3D object is created as the material of choice is consecutively layered. A wide range of materials can be used during additive manufacturing, including metal and plastic. Today, 3D printing is used to create a variety of custom-designed orthodontic devices, including distalizers, partial appliances, space maintainers, retainers and Elastic Mandibular Advancement (EMA) appliances. Since this is an additive process, material waste during creation is of no concern.

Creating a Dental Impression: Traditional Method vs. 3D Printing

Traditional Method

The traditional method for creating an impression of the patient’s mouth (negative mold) involves using a rubber-like material (alginate) to capture the details of his or her teeth. Once the alginate sets, it is removed from the mouth. If an error occurs while making the negative model, another impression will need to be created; thus, the process starts again. In addition, some quality issues are very hard to spot visually but can definitely have a negative impact in the fit and feel of the finished appliance.

This negative model is used to create a positive model of the patient’s teeth. The positive model is created using a material that is similar to plaster.

Needless to say, the traditional molding process is lengthy and involved for the patient and the dentist. Additionally, the materials that are used are costly and messy. Also, creating the positive model, waiting for it to harden, and clean up time make this process time-consuming.

Furthermore, if an imperfection in the negative model is not recognized immediately, the patient will need to return to the office to create another alginate impression of his or her teeth. This is inconvenient for both the orthodontist and the patient. In addition, it delays the creation of the patient’s orthodontic appliance.

3D Printing

This process creates a more pleasant experience for the patient and the dental professional performing the procedure. Although the conventional molding process requires a lot of hands-on time, attaining detailed information for the 3D printing process is relatively quick and extremely easy. With 3D printing, messy gels are not necessary because an intraoral wand is used to create a 3D image of the patient’s teeth and gums. Due to its precision, concerns related to imperfections during the molding process are essentially eliminated when 3D printing is utilized.

7 Benefits of Using 3D Technology

Due to the many benefits 3D printing offers, companies are embracing this innovative technology. When considering the orthodontic industry, 3D printing and orthodontics are a perfect fit for a variety of reasons: Seven of these reasons are listed below.

1. Fast Production

Conventional manufacturing of orthodontic appliances is a relatively slow process; however, 3D printing is fast and nimble; thus, allowing patients to receive their customized orthodontic appliances quicker than ever before, which greatly improves patient experiences.

2. High-Quality Orthodontic Products

Each orthodontic appliance created for a patient’s mouth must be custom-designed; therefore, the precision of the 3D printing process is ideal for the creation of these products. The ability to create high-resolution, unique objects is just one of the reasons that the additive manufacturing process is replacing the subtractive technique throughout the orthodontics industry.

The traditional manufacturing techniques can easily result in a faulty product, which leads to a poor-quality orthodontic appliance and an unhappy patient. The intraoral scanner provides a more accurate impression than can be attained using the conventional methods. This results in a better fitting dental appliance.
Using the innovative 3D printing method, OrthoDenco provides the unique, high-quality orthodontic appliances our clients need to keep their patients happy and protect their professional reputation.

3. A Cost-Effective Solution

When creating an impression using the conventional alginate material, there are concerns related to the proper preparation and use of the material itself as well as to the patient moving during the impression-making process. An error creating a conventional impression is costly. Furthermore, preparing the alginate material and performing the impression-making procedure itself is a much lengthier process than it is to create a digital scan.
A digital scan is much less time consuming; only taking approximately 90 seconds to create. Therefore, the dental professional performing the scan will be able to accomplish more than he or she would have if a conventional impression were being created. Instead of using the sticky alginate material, a digital scan is attained using an intraoral wand, which means the patient remains comfortable throughout the scanning process.

4. Offers Precision

Since 3D printing is such a precise manufacturing process, custom-designed orthodontic appliances are easy to create. In addition, due to its precision, with additive manufacturing orthodontists can reduce the number of visits a patient needs to be fitted for his or her appliance.

5. Has the Ability to Create an Unlimited Number of Geometrically Complex Shapes

Traditional manufacturing methods rely on cutting technologies and a variety of molds to create different shapes; however, this practice can be extremely difficult for the manufacturer and costly for the orthodontist. Using 3D printing, at OrthoDenco, we generate complex geometric shapes with ease.

6. 3D Printing Process Results in Minimal Waste

Injection and subtractive molding both result in a substantial amount of wasted resources. They both require the removal of material from a solid block, whereas 3D printing creates an orthodontic appliance through the addition of material; thus, minimizing waste.

7. When Compared to Traditional Methods, 3D Printing Reduces Anxiety for the Patient

For many patients, creating an impression with the alginate material is extremely uncomfortable because they have a sensitive gag reflex. Furthermore, dentists and orthodontists are increasing their availability to patients by replacing the time-consuming conventional impression methods with the quick, 90-second intraoral wand.

Advantages of Outsourcing

According to Smart Tech Publishing, today, nearly 90 percent of dental practices choose to have an outside source fulfill their 3D printing technology needs.

By outsourcing, dentists and orthodontists are:

  • eliminating the need to invest in their own hardware;
  • saving time by just performing the patient’s 90-second intraoral scan and then sending it to a digital dental or digital orthodontic laboratory for product production; and
  • eliminating the need to spend time training employees and/or hiring additional staff.

Orthodontists can use OrthoDenco’s 3D printing technology services as little or as much as they like.

OrthoDenco is a Digital Orthodontic Laboratory that is dedicated to providing orthodontists with the top-quality 3D printing technology services that they need in a timely manner. At OrthoDenco, we have the ability to print numerous custom-designed parts, simultaneously: For this reason, even practices that have previously invested in a 3D printing machine and trained staff members will choose OrthoDenco when multiple dental appliances need to be created.

By hiring a third-party to fabricate your dental appliances, you can focus on caring for your patients. If you would like to learn more about 3D digital printing technology, contact OrthoDenco today or call 1-800-315-8829.