A year ago, we blogged about the how CAD triggered a new wave of interest among the dental community across the globe. Most of the benefits that CAD/CAM and 3D printing technologies have thus delivered within the past decade are so well known that the benefits are taken for granted. For example, these are well-known benefits that CAD technology has delivered to the medical industry:
- Robotic surgery has been adopted by many hospitals for many medical procedures,
- CAD software is used for reading and interpreting mammographic images for cancer,
- 3D printing is used to create and fit prosthetic devices,
It is common knowledge that CAD/CAM and 3D technologies have had great impact in many other areas such as robotic devices, inertial guidance systems, and medical diagnosis.
This article focuses on determining the extent to which the practice of dentistry has benefited from CAD/CAM and 3D printing technologies. In order to determine these benefits, the article tries to answer these questions:
- What is the definition of dentistry from a layman’s viewpoint?
- Which areas of dental practice have benefited the most from 3D printing?
- What future benefits do CAD/CAM and 3D printing hold for dental practice?
What Is the Definition of Dentistry from a Layman’s Viewpoint?
In general terms, dentistry is an area of medical practice which diagnoses and treats diseases related to the oral cavity. It is beyond the scope of this article to mention all the disciplines which are defined within dental practice. Therefore, the definition is restricted to dental treatment of oral diseases which involve (a) tooth decay, (b) gum disease, (c) dental hygiene (cleaning, scaling, polishing), (d) surgical
procedures (extraction, filling, root canal), and (e) dental implants and prosthetics.
It is in the area of dental implants and restoration (crowns, bridges, dentures) that 3D printing is making the greatest impact and it will be the main focus of this article.
Which Areas Of Dental Practice Have Benefited The Most From 3D Printing?
Undoubtedly, the practice of dental implants and restoration has benefited most from 3D printing.
Because the benefits are provided primarily by certain 3D printer companies, the benefits will be discussed in terms of products provided by the top 3D printing company, Stratasys®. The company provides these products:
- CrownWorx quickly and easily creates quality wax-ups for crowns, bridges and other dental restorations. The product uses accurate, reliable WDM (Wax Deposition modeling) technology to print a wax-like material in order to replace the conventional casting process.
- Objet30 OrthoDesk creates automated dental models, dramatically reduces fabrication times, and increases product output. For large volume production, the company offers higher end 3D printers.
Previously, dental restoration took many steps to implement. For example, if a patient develops a chipped tooth, conventional dental restoration involves several visits (lasting over several weeks) to the dentist in order to perform these actions:
- Make a physical mold of the damaged tooth,
- Send the mold to a laboratory so that the crown is manufactured,
- Return the manufactured crown to the dentist so that it is secured to the tooth.
By contrast, CAD technology and 3D printing requires only one visit to the dentist, and all the following steps are carried out during the visit.
- A digital camera takes a picture of the damaged tooth, and CAD software digitally designs 3D printable CAD file, a crown for the tooth is created with 3D printer.
- The CAD software sends out the design for the crown to a 3D printer, which prints the crown, so that it is fitted to the chipped tooth.
For this example, the benefits of using 3D printing are obvious.
- The patient makes one visit lasting maybe a couple of hours, to have the fitted crown. With conventional methods, the patient makes several visits over two or more weeks,
- The patient endures the inconvenience of having a mold impression made (some patients have a gag reflex and cannot tolerate this procedure),
- The overall cost of the procedure is less when 3D printing is used.
Apart from the example, given, other areas have benefited from CAD/CAM and 3D printing. These include printing of (a) jawbones, (b) dental implants, (c) removable dentures, and (d) mouthpieces for patients suffering from sleep apnea.
A growth rate of 500% in 3D printing of dental restorative parts is expected in the next 5 years.
What Future Benefits Do CAD/CAM and 3D Printing Hold For Dental Practice?
Because 3D printing technology provides more cost-effective and timely solutions for restorative dentistry, conventional dental labs will become less popular. The reasons are easy to determine.
- Patients will prefer to have their dental problems solved in one visit to the dentist, rather than in several visits lasting two or more weeks.
- Dentists can solve more problems quicker and more effectively, thereby improving productivity. Younger dentists will be willing to invest in CAD/CAM milling machines and 3D printers, because it makes good business sense. However, older dentists who are approaching retirement may be reluctant to make the change, because the learning curve and investment costs may not appeal to them.
- It has been estimated that the use of CT scans and 3D printing for developing dental models will be only one-tenth of the cost of traditional methods. Because the market for 3D printing dental products is huge, many competitors will enter the market. Some of these competitors include 3D Systems® and Hewlett-Packard®. Many companies will get involved in supplying materials for 3D printing. For example, EnvisionTEC® provides materials for constructing (a) partials with toughness, no brittleness, and no flexibility, (b) glass-filled polymeric materials as temporary partials, (c) materials for producing drill guides and accurate placement of implants.
- Because of federal regulations regarding the streamlining of medical practice in the United States, there will be an increase in the merging of medical and dental records, and other countries may follow suit. Streamlining of medical and dental data is meant to cut costs; therefore many dentists may switch to a 3D printing system. Furthermore, the complexities of managing dental records will be reduced when a federally supervised cloud based system provides data security and backup services.