HOW 3D PRINTING IS REVOLUTIONIZING HEALTH CARE (AND DENTISTRY!) PRINTING TEETH
I recently had an article pop up on my phone extolling the virtues of 3D printing and how this new technology was changing health care. Since we’ve actually been 3D printing in our practice since 2015, I was very interested to hear how 3D printing is being used outside dentistry. One of the biggest advances in health care from 3D printing can be found in the field of prosthetics. By being able to digitally capture and recreate the dimensions of body parts, this technology can be utilized to create beautiful conformal ventilated scoliosis braces, custom-fit orthopedics, supports for amputees, and more. While we can’t live up to the media buzz surrounding 3D printing technology to print replacement organs (or teeth), advances in bioprinting and tissue engineering are allowing us to do more than ever before possible. New medical technology is capable of printing tiny organs, or “organoids,” using 3D printing techniques, only printing with stem cells as the biologic “ink.” Once built, these organoids will hopefully be able to proliferate inside the diseased body as a replacement for a failing organ such as a kidney or liver. While 3D printing may still seem like science fiction, it’s already started to revolutionize the dental industry, ushering in a new age of convenience and cost-effectiveness for patients. Chances are if you’ve had a dental implant, veneer, or all-ceramic crown in our office the last three years, you’ve benefited from 3D printing technology. Just a few years ago, if you were to need braces, crowns, a night guard, or any other dental appliance, the first step was to take an impression of your teeth. This was done by placing a
putty into an arch-shaped plastic device that you bit down on for a few minutes. Before long, the impression solidifies and can be used for all sorts of things, such as a mold to create a model that (almost) perfectly represents your teeth, or a template to form a custom- fit night guard.
Now we are able to use virtual impressions and 3D printing to create the devices that you ultimately take home. This process can occur much quicker with great accuracy. For implants, we are now virtually planning every single implant surgery. Through the merging of 3D cone-beam X-rays, as well as virtual impressions, we are able to place dental implants in the exact position needed on every case with accuracy as close as a single human hair. This reduces healing times, creates more ideal results, and even allows us to ultimately reduce the cost and time required to replace a missing tooth. Whether you have recently benefited from orthodontics, dental implants, or even a crown in the last couple of years or will need one soon, one thing’s for certain: The future of dentistry and orthodontics is bright, with 3D printers poised to make treatment quicker and cheaper for patients than ever before. I know this technology has changed how I practice, and I am more excited than ever for the benefits to patients.
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