Guns may grab the headlines, but 3D printing has other uses other than producing weapons. One growth area for the technology is digital dentistry, where dentists use 3D printers to produce models, dentures, braces, and implants, while foregoing the gooey pastes and gels that are traditionally used to make them.
One of the earliest adopters of digital dentistry was 3D printing giant Stratasys, which in 2012 merged with Israel’s Objet 3D, another major manufacturer of 3D printers. Both companies had already developed printers geared to the dental market, and after the merger, Stratasys headquartered its digital dentistry division in Israel.
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Since then, the Israeli lab has been producing new products to enable dentists to take advantage of 3D printing techniques — the latest being a material called Veroglaze, which can be used to print crowns, bridge restorations, diagnostic wax-ups, and other tooth-related objects.
Producing plates, veneers, dentures, implants and the like is custom work; no two mouths are the same, as experienced dentists are wont to say. Traditionally, dentists have used impression plates filled with silicone, sodium alginate or polyether to make models. The patient bites down on the material and leaves “teeth marks,” the starting point for building the needed object. Corrections are made based on the dentist’s observations and drilling — both of the item when it comes from the lab, and possibly of the teeth — in order to find the right fit.
In digital dentistry, dentists forgo physical impressions and use intra-oral scanners, which provide a full view of the anatomy of the mouth, jaws and teeth, and allow labs to build precise models that fit right on the first try. Most of the scanners are compatible with 3D printers, said Stratasys’ Director of Global Dental, Avi Cohen. Even for simple record keeping, he said, scanners make sense.
Orthodontists, for example, “keep the original (or ’before’) impressions for each patient for several years — five to nine, depending on location. For orthodontic practices of any size, this can create a huge storage problem since all those physical models need a home,” said Cohen.
This article was originally published on The Times of Israel and was re-posted with permission. To continue reading this article on their site, click here.