Guide to 3D Printing for Dentists

With additive manufacturing, dentists and technologists can make devices and guides that are specifically suited to each patient’s tooth alignment and structure. Learn about the applications of 3D printing for orthodontics, models, surgical guides, crowns and bridges, and more.

By Aaron Lichtig · August 26, 2019

The advancement of 3D printing technology has had a significant impact on the medical industry, and particularly on dentistry. Everyone’s mouth is unique, so with additive manufacturing, dentists and technologists can make devices and guides that are specifically suited to each patient’s tooth alignment and structure. This printing is often done on dental-specific printers, which are now inexpensive enough to be purchased by dental practices. Many practices also use on-demand manufacturing services like Xometry, which offers instant quotes on CAD files and 3D printed dental parts delivered in as fast as one day.

Technologies Most Commonly Used for Dental 3D Printing

Dental applications require high levels of precision, so the technologies most often used are Stereolithography (SLA), Digital Light Synthesis (DLS), Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), and Multi Jet Fusion (MJF). These additive technologies offer high levels of geometric complexity without sacrificing durability. Formlabs, Carbon, and other 3D printer manufacturers often have dental-specific resins.

Applications of Dental 3D Printing

Additive manufacturing is used to create dental surgical devices, model patients’ teeth, fix broken teeth, and make flossing easier. Dental tool guides, which accurately mirror a patient’s unique teeth, can be quickly made with 3D printing to improve surgical outcomes. Common applications include:

  • Orthodontics: Devices like night guards and aligners are among the most often printed dental devices. First, the dentist scans the patient’s teeth and translates this scan into a 3D CAD model. This file can then be used to print a model of the patient’s teeth, from which a plastic relief is formed to create a device. Or, in some cases, the dentist can directly print the night guard or aligner itself on a high-definition dental 3D printer. Direct printing is becoming more popular and is likely to grow even further in the future.
  • Surgical Guides: Dental surgery requires high accuracy—dentists can literally “touch a nerve” if their drills aren’t in exactly the right place. To combat surgical errors, many dental surgeons are now 3D printing guides that are designed to fit perfectly with each patient’s unique tooth structure and alignment. To do this, they first scan the patient’s mouth, then design a model of the mouth with openings at the surgery location. The materials used for this type of printing are similar to those used for aligners.
  • Crowns and Bridges: These corrections for damaged or missing teeth have been around for decades, but are only now being made with additive manufacturing technology. Crowns can be printed directly off of models of broken teeth. Or, dentists can also print 3D models that can serve as molds in a process called investment casting.
  • Models: Models of a patient’s mouth can be helpful to dentists outside of a surgical context as well. 3D printed models are often used to test whether a crown, implant, or other filling will fit well before actually putting such things into patients’ mouths. This type of model can also help a dentist explain what they are doing to the patient.

Future Applications

  • Fully-printable Dentures: The days of George Washington and his trusty wooden teeth have passed. Formlabs recently announced the launch of a fully-printable denture product that may come to market soon. Other companies are also working on fully printable dentures made with biocompatible materials. This will lower the cost of dentures, especially for low-income, high-need populations like seniors.
  • Replacement Teeth: While not widely available yet, the advent of biocompatible materials may soon result in the ability to quickly print individual teeth. Watch for this technology to evolve in the coming years.

Create 3D Printed Dental Solutions

Additive manufacturing will continue to have a major impact on dentistry and orthodontics. Xometry has worked with dozens of dental practices and companies on the applications listed above. To get an instant quote, head over to the Xometry Instant Quoting Engine℠ - you could have customized models to your practice within days.

Posted in Additive