New Technology: How 3D Printers Are Changing The Face of Dentistry

Published on July 19, 2021
New Technology How 3D Printers Are Changing The Face of Dentistry

New Technology: How 3D Printers Are Changing The Face of Dentistry

3D printers and scanners are transforming the way dental treatment is performed, making the process of planning and creating items like retainers and mouth guards quicker, easier, and much more cost-effective. In our National Dental Care and DB Dental practices, we use the iTero scanner to digitally scan patients’ mouths.

To find out more about this incredible technology, we had a chat with Dr Rohit Chaturvedi, our Lead Dentist at DB Dental Claremont in Western Australia, who shared some fantastic insights on the many benefits of using 3D printers in dentistry.

Rohit, could you start by giving us a quick overview of how you use 3D scanners during patient check-ups?

Sure. I like to scan every patient during their check-up appointment, as this allows me to take them through the scan in order to show them exactly what’s going on inside their mouth - what’s good, what’s not so good, and what the outlook might be in the short, medium and long term.

Then, if we need to take any action, I can discuss this using the scan as a point of reference, so it really helps educate the patient.

Great! We know that 3D scanners and printers are used in many different areas of dentistry, so take us through some of the common applications of this technology.

Dr Rohit says 3D scanners have "transformed dentistry."

1. Orthodontic Relapse

Orthodontic relapse is when a patient has previously had orthodontic work and subsequently stopped wearing their retainers, causing their teeth to shift. In this case, we can use the 3D scan to show them how their teeth have moved.

We then give the patient three options - do nothing (which means the problem will get worse and be more costly to fix in the future), accept the position of the teeth as they are and make a retainer to hold them in position, or correct the issue and then retain the teeth.

If the patient chooses the second option, all we need to do is print off a model from our 3D printer using the scan we’ve already taken and make their retainer from that. It’s incredibly quick and easy, and far more cost-effective than spending hundreds of dollars in lab fees.

2. Mouth Guards

This is one of the areas where 3D printers come in very handy! When sports guard season comes around, we’ll inevitably get calls from parents saying their child urgently needs a custom-fitted mouthguard for their upcoming footy match or hockey game.

When this happens, they’re thrilled to discover they don’t need to come in for an appointment - if we have the child’s scans, we can literally print off their sports guard right then and there via the 3D printer.

Another bonus of 3D scanning and printing for mouthguards (and other devices) is that we can avoid gooey impressions which can make children gag or feel nauseous, so it’s a much more comfortable experience for them.

3. Teeth grinding

Another area where 3D printers are making a huge difference is in the case of teeth grinding. In a lot of cases, when we initially tell patients they’re grinding their teeth (because we can see the signs of wear and tear), many will be unaware they’re doing it and some will even deny it altogether! We’ll show them the evidence via the 3D scan and make them aware of how a custom device can assist with this condition.

What often happens is that around a week or two later, the patient will call us back saying they’ve realised they were grinding their teeth after all! At this point, if they’re keen to go ahead with treatment, they’ll assume they need to come back into the practice to have their device made - it’s great to be able to tell them there’s no need to come in, as we can do it all using the scans we already took. Using these scans, we can 3D design a splint and then print it straight from the 3D printer.

4. Smile Makeovers

3D printers have transformed the process for showing a patient what the results of their smile makeover will look like.

In the old days, we’d create a wax model which had to be hand-built by a technician in what was a very arduous and time-consuming process. Now, we can do it all via the 3D scans and printers, and share the files to any location. It’s ten minutes on a computer versus hours of work, so is clearly much more efficient and cost-effective.

5. Dental Implants

One of the dentists here at our practice offers dental implants. Using the 3D scanner, he can pre-plan where he wants his implants to go and we can 3D print a stent or implant guide to place the implant exactly where he wants it.

Printing this in-house is much quicker and means the cost is far lower than having to send it off to a laboratory.

6. Lost or damaged retainers

A big advantage for the patient is if something happens to their retainer or mouth guard - say they left it on holiday or their dog chewed it - we can literally print off a new one within an hour.

This means far less stress and hassle for the patient; they don’t need to make a special trip to the practice to get fitted, there’s significantly less waiting time, and it’s much more cost-effective.

What’s more, the dentist doesn’t even need to be in the practice if something like a new retainer or mouth guard is needed. A patient could call up our office staff and tell them they’ve lost their retainer - a staff member simply goes to the printer, selects the patient’s name, and presses print! It’s all done within an hour.

Wow, there’s a lot of incredible applications for 3D printers! Looking ahead, how do you see this technology being used by NDC and DB Dental practices in the near future?

One thing I’m interested in developing is ‘lab hubs’. In WA, for example, we have quite a few practices in relatively close proximity to each other. If you have, say, three or four practices close together, you don’t need to have three or four 3D printers - if each practice has a scanner, you can create individual lab accounts and link each scanner to a single printer.

This would allow us to print out things like mouth guards, bleaching trays, retainers, splints, implant guides - we can print all of those devices for the practice that needs them. This means rather than just one practice benefiting, it’s multiple practices benefiting, with major cost savings for all through splitting the investment in this technology.

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