3D Printing Is the Future of Modern Dentistry
"Any practice that owns a digital intraoral scanner can greatly benefit from owning a 3D printer."
When it comes to using digital technology, one of the best investments for my general practice has been 3D printing. While many dentists assume this technology is too complicated and difficult to learn, that is simply not the case. In my practice, it has been very easy to teach our dental assistants how to use the printers—to the point where all our doctors need to do is design a surgical guide and save the STL file on a networked drive. Then, the assistant loads the file into the software, adds supports, prints, and has the surgical guide in a case pan by the end of the day.
Saving Time, Space, and Money
Dental practices that use digital technology but don't have a 3D printer are missing out on some great advantages. For example, any practice that owns a digital intraoral scanner can benefit from owning a 3D printer, because they'd have the ability to print a highly accurate dental model whenever they please, or to scan their stored dental models and print them later to save time and space.
Doctors who use CBCT technology without owning a 3D printer also are missing out on the opportunity to easily and inexpensively print their own surgical guides, especially when the materials and software needed to plan and design them are readily available from a variety of manufacturers. A 3D-printed surgical guide can cost as little as $10 to create in-house, while a lab-fabricated guide can cost anywhere from $200 to $300.
What’s Next for 3D Printing
The next leap for this evolving technology is the design and printing of both partial and complete dentures for our patients—something that dental labs have been doing for years. As the materials and software needed for 3D printing improve, general dentists can easily produce these restorations in-house. Imagine a patient coming into your office who just lost a tooth and needs a transitional partial or single tooth flipper, and then being able to 3D print a well-fitting restoration right in your office and have it ready to seat by the end of the day.
Make an Educated Decision
My best advice for any colleagues who want to invest in a 3D printer for their practice is not to rush the decision. Think about what you want to print first—for example, models, surgical guides, or night guards—and partner with a company that is geared toward dentists and already has a large dentist user base. Many of these manufacturers offer training and resources to support you every step of the way.
3D printers are poised to be as crucial to the modern dental office lab as model trimmers once were to analog dentistry. In fact, I am confident that this technology will eventually replace all stone dental model equipment and supplies. While 3D printing for dentistry is still a rapidly evolving field, my hope is that manufacturers will continue to offer us solutions with better reliability, faster printing speeds, stronger materials, and expanded applications. Indeed, it is a great time to be a digital dentist!
Joshua D. Howard, DMD earned his dental degree from the University of Connecticut School of Dental Medicine and attended a postgraduate Advanced Education in General Dentistry at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA. He is passionate about continuing education and staying at the leading edge of knowledge and developments in dental technologies and techniques, including computerized and CAD/CAM dentistry.