Three-dimensional printing has proven effective for a number of restorative and cosmetic dentistry procedures, including the creation of dental models, transparent braces, veneers and dental crowns.

Though the applications for 3D printing in dental and other medical fields are growing, the use of 3D printers remains limited due in part to cost. But the technology is evolving at a rapid rate, and there are some indicators that the future of 3D-printer-assisted dental treatments may soon be a reality, although they have yet to improve on the advanced CAD/CAM system we have in our office.

3D printed dental implant bridge

3D Printers and Dentistry

A recent commentary in the “Health Files” section of The Economic Times focused on the present and future of 3D printing in dentistry. The technology is currently used to provide highly accurate modeling, and to craft a limited array of precision dental work.

At the moment, few dentists maintain 3D printers, which are primarily employed by dental labs that work with individual dentists. These printers use digital X-rays and other imaging technology provided by your dentist to craft the dental work.

In the near future, according to an industry analysis cited in The Economic Times piece, a dentist will be able to design and print a perfect-fitting artificial tooth in less than seven minutes. One of the main hang-ups is cost; existing 3D printers with limited applications can sell for well over $1 million, although as the technology continues to improve, the machines and the dental work they produce will become more cost-effective.

A Preview of 3D Coming Attractions

Last year, researchers at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands devised a way to create artificial teeth and dental implants from antimicrobial polymers using a 3D printer. The polymers kill the Streptococcus mutans bacteria, which contributes to tooth decay.

A recent Wired article examined the state of 3D printing in jaw reconstruction. Missing teeth and other oral health conditions such as periodontal disease can contribute to a loss of bone density in the jaw; some patients seeking dental implants require grafting in order to have a solid foundation to support the implants and remaining natural teeth.

Some advanced 3D printers can make components to help restore the jaw using a mix of plastic, rubber and metal. But researchers believe 3D printers will one day be able to essentially replicate bone.

Will 3D Printing Overtake CEREC?

However, cost is just one of the factors limiting the implementation of 3D printing. Another one is the durability of the materials used. Although there are some promising materials being used in 3D printing, few of them are durable enough to withstand the repeated stresses of biting and chewing. Aesthetics is another limiting factor, because even when 3D printed materials are strong enough, they do not achieve the lifelike appearance we demand from quality cosmetic dentistry.

So although 3D printing is a promising technology, it will have to improve considerably before it can compete with the computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacturing (CAD/CAM) system we have in our office. CEREC technology allows us to design a filling, dental crown, or bridge, then manufacture it from a block of advanced ceramic material. The result is a restoration that is as attractive and durable as anything that can be made in a dental lab.

Rockland County dentist Dr. Mark Dunayer and the entire team at B & D Dental Excellence are devoted to providing you with compassionate, comfortable care. If you’re considering cosmetic dentistry treatment, or if you’re due for a regular checkup and teeth cleaning, please call our West Nyack, NY, office today at (845) 627-7645.