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If you are managing a dental laboratory or practice, additive manufacturing is no longer a decision that can be postponed. With many new 3D printers being released constantly, the market continues to expand at all levels.
But for the first time, several 3D printing solutions offer a way to make digital dentistry an affordable, no-nonsense business choice to improve patient care, quality, and outcomes; broaden your product and service offerings, through surgical guides, retainers, aligners, orthodontic arches, crown & bridge models, and more; and reduce material and labor costs significantly through streamlined digital workflows.
What’s involved in integrating 3D printing into your business? What are the different technologies on the market? Why do some printers cost less than $5,000, and others $80,000+?
In this guide, we’ll look at the digital workflow, the different technologies and all the aspects you should evaluate before investing into a 3D printer.
The Digital Dentistry Workflow and Prerequisites
Every dental product that can be 3D printed follows the same basic workflow involving these steps. Adapting a digital workflow is an absolute must before you can introduce additive manufacturing into your business.
Every dental product that can be 3D printed follows the same basic workflow which involves scanning, designing, printing and preparing.
Like traditional dental product fabrication, digital production requires information on the patient anatomy. The simple difference is that data on the patient’s dentition can be collected digitally, with an intraoral scanner, removing the need for alginate impressions. Alternately, desktop optical scanners can be used to scan manual impressions or plaster models. For treatments that require patient osteotomy, such as implants, an additional dataset needs to be collected using CBCT scanners.
Patient anatomical data is then imported into dental CAD systems, where treatments, prosthetics, and other dental products can be designed. The specifics depend on the treatment, but typically the design process is similar to traditional workflows, done on a computer. With digital design, treatments can be created with increased ease, precision, and care. After the treatments are designed, models can be exported for manufacturing.
In order to physically realize a digital model of a dental product, 3D models are uploaded to the 3D printers, which then solidify the object layer by layer, forming the shape of the dental product with digital precision. For 3D printing dental appliances and models, smooth surface finish, fine details, high precision, and advanced material properties are key ingredients of successful prints.
Once the models are 3D printed, there are often a few post-processing steps before a product can go back to the patient. For the most common resin-based technologies, all parts must be washed, dried, polished, and post-cured. Depending on the particular product, assembly with prefabricated accessories might also be necessary, such as metal guide tubes for surgical guides.
Intraoral scanner or desktop optical scanner: Allows you to replace manual impressions with fast and accurate digital impressions. Intraoral scanners are used in the dental practice to capture scans directly from the patients. Desktop scanners are used to scan PVS impressions or stone models, and are recommended for dental labs.
3D printed surgical guides enable quick and high-precision implant placement for just $2-5 per guide.
Dental CAD software: Allows you to process scan data to design treatments, prosthetics and other dental products, and export them as 3D models for milling or printing.
CBCT Scanner: Allows you to acquire patient osteotomy. This is only required for select applications, such as for creating surgical guides for implants.
Today there are three common technologies to create polymer-based dental products. Each of them cures photoreactive liquid resin with light to form very thin solid layers that stack up to create solid parts.