3D printing for the dental industry

3D scanners are used in the dental industry to model in 3D the teeth of a patient. Dentists may then 3D print wax ups, models, metal implants or even metal denture framework on demand with 3D printers.

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A dental prosthetist manually finishes a 3D printed denture.

A dental prosthetist manually finishes a 3D printed denture.

What are the added values for the dental industry?

With a 3D scanner and a 3D printer, it is possible to produce customized dentures for patients. The dental industry requires custom-parts, single-unit production, with excellent accuracy. This business requires to compete against offshore production. Going digital for dental labs and dentists is the opportunity of offering better services to the patients. The 3D printing technologies used in the dental industry are Digital Light Processing (DLP), Stereo-Lithography Apparatus (SLA), Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) and Direct Laser Metal Sintering (DLMS).

Each 3D printing technology varies in the materials available (plastic, ceramic or metal) and their use case.

According to the SmarTech Report published in June 2015 the 3D Printing in Dental Market is expected to Reach $3.1 Billion by 2020. This 3D Printing Industry article cites SmarTech forecast about 3D printing for the dental industry: No other industry currently adopting 3D printing has the same combination of high value, high performance, and high volume parts required by the dental industry, making 3D printing a near perfect fit for true disruption and game changing capability compared to existing traditional methods of production.”

3D scanning for the dental industry

3D scanning is usually the starting point of digital dentistry projects. 3D scanners can create precise 3D models of the patient’s denture quicker than the traditional molding technique.

Intraoral 3D scanners

The intraoral 3D scanners allow a live capture of a patient denture from chair-side.

Some intraoral 3D scanners are capable to distinguish between teeth, gingival or restorative materials.

Intraoral scanning systems create STL, OBJ or PLY 3D files to produce accurate, durable 3D printed models of individual teeth and arches with crisp resolution.

The Dental Wings 7Series desktop 3D scanner.

The Dental Wings 7Series desktop 3D scanner.

Desktop 3D scanners

Desktop 3D scanner can make 3D files from plaster models. Dental professionals can open up and store the dental model before scanning it in 3D.

This type of 3D scanners can perform automatic 3D scans when equipped with rotary tables.

They export directly the generated 3D file to a computer, which can then send the information to a 3D printer or a milling machine.

3D printing for the dental industry

With 3D printers, dentists can produce custom 3D dentures and dental apparatuses for their patients.

3D printed models in plaster and resin

3D printed models in plaster can serve explanatory purposes for the patient and support key decision making for dentists. Physical impressions and gypsum models are produced from patient denture molding.

3D printing can also fabricate on demand stone models and orthodontic appliances.

A digital 3D printed jaw model. Image credit: EOS, GmbH.

A digital 3D printed jaw model. Image credit: EOS, GmbH.

Wax-ups for 3D dental crowns, copings and bridges

Wax patterns (wax-ups) can serve to cast the metal framework for prosthetic devices such as copings, crowns, and/or bridges. A 3D scanner is first used to scan the plaster model or the patient’s denture. After 3D modeling the wax-up, the 3D printer is ready to create the wax patterns.

Those wax patterns are later used with the lost-wax technique. During the investment casting process, the wax is first melted, then replaced by melted metal.

The metallic denture frameworks have the exact same shape as the initial 3D printed wax-ups.


Metal denture frameworks and ceramic implants

With 3D printing it is possible to manufacture small, complex metal parts at high quality and speed. One popular technology for dental labs is Direct Metal Printing (DMP). The compatible materials are standard metal alloys and ceramics, including steel, Stellites, CrCo, Inconel, Al and Ti alloys. With 3D printing labs, dentists can produce directly quality denture frameworks perfectly fitting to their clients needs.

A 3D printed metal dental framework.

A 3D printed metal dental framework.

Case study: The Stratasys Objet260 Dental Advantage

Reproduction of a jaw by Stratasys printer Objet260.

Stratasys, star of the IDS

The 2015 International Dental Show was held in Cologne, Germany, from March 10 to 14, and Stratasys garnered all the praise. They presented their new dental 3D printer, capable of printing a whole jaw very realistically. This multi-material 3D biocompatible printer can reproduce colors and textures visually mimicking biological organs, including life-like gum textures for precise functional testing, as well as a wide range of shades for customized color matching.

Many dental professionals and labs are already using Stratasys printers and this little revolution named Objet260 Dental Selection will surely convince many others.