How 3-D Technology Revolutionizes Dentistry

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healthy teeth and green apple, close up

Pretty soon you may be happy that your dentist is a tech geek. Three-dimensional printing is making its way into dental practices and revolutionizing oral care. Some of the ways modern dentistry makes use of 3-D printing include:

3-D Printed Crowns and Teeth

New hardware for tech savvy dentists can be used to take 3-D images of existing teeth. Specialized software then allows the dentist to manipulate digital crowns or teeth to properly fit in the mouth. From there, the digital files are sent to a milling machine that either prints a new tooth or crown by depositing layers of resin according to the image’s specifications or carves out the specified shape from a block of dental composite using lasers. This advancement in oral care eliminates the need for making sloppy plaster molds and can be done all in one sitting.

Antibacterial Teeth

Technology now allows printing of replacement teeth that are made of bacteria fighting compounds. Researchers have developed an antimicrobial plastic that incorporates quaternary ammonium salts, or ammonium compounds with antibacterial properties, that can be used with 3-D printers to print replacement teeth. Why is this a good thing? Infused with antimicrobials, these compounds kill the Streptococcus mutans bacteria that is the cause of tooth decay, creating longer lasting and healthier teeth.

Digital Braces

Family dental care is revolutionized through 3-D scanning, which allows an orthodontist to create digital impressions of a patient’s teeth instead of making a traditional cast mold. From there, the impressions can be manipulated to straighten teeth or reduce spacing and used to 3-D print physical impressions. The 3-D printed impressions are then used to create alignment appliances worn by patients that move teeth into the correct position. The process eliminates the need for multiple impressions and paves the way for overall faster dental results.

3-D Dentures

The Food and Drug Administration recently approved new denture technology that allows for 3-D printing of dentures and denture baseplates. The technology is revolutionary because it allows more precise fit of dentures and reduces the time involved in creation. The process involves using computer-aided design and manufacturing software to model and manipulate the dentures for the best fit. A stereolithographic printer translates the digital mock up into the three-dimensional dentures, which are then cured by special lights for durability. The material used passed all FDA toxicity testing and is approved for tissue contact for a period of longer than thirty days.

These new uses for 3-D printing allow dentists to create more accurate fittings, reduce cost, and provide comprehensive oral care.