What is 3D Dental Printing?
3D dental printing is a manufacturing process that involves using highly accurate 3D printers to fabricate dental models from intraoral scans or impressions. At Smart Design Dental, we use the dental models to make dental appliances and restorations. In fact, some appliances you would not consider, like night guards, TMJ splints, and simple clear aligners can be directly made with 3D printing.
Smart Designs uses 3SP and DLP printers, both utilizing a photocurable resin that is UV light cured in thin layers to form the desired object. Printers differ based on their sources of light that cure the resin. DLP printers use a projector to project cross sections of a 3D object onto the bottom of a tray of resin. DLP printers build models inverted from the bottom up, so when an object is finished printing, it will be upside down on the build platform. However, these printers are limited in the area of resin the light source can reach. 3SP Printers use a laser to etch out the cross sections of a 3D object. These printers are capable of curing a larger area of resin versus the DLP printers, allowing technicians to print 30-50 dental models at one time. (You can tell this was written by a CAD/CAM expert and it is too detailed for our purposes!)
How is 3D Dental Printing Used?
There are two significant influences that 3D printing has had on the dental field. First, the ability to produce highly accurate and durable dental models will ultimately result in better-fitting dental restorations and appliances. Second, is that it allows a dental technician to virtually design an appliance directly from a scan file, providing the most accurate that is intimately contoured to the patient’s bite, providing a more natural fit.
When a Doctor sends an intraoral scan to our lab, our technicians must convert the scan file to a 3D printable STL file. As a part of the process, our technicians virtually carve and sculpt the models to remove all imperfections and can virtually block out undercuts providing patients with a better-fitting appliance.
What are the Benefits?
Intraoral scanning is quickly becoming the “go-to” over traditional dental impressions. Prior to 3D printing, impression material was used to record conditions in the mouth, then plaster was poured into them to fabricate the appliance or restorations. With each step, distortion is introduced. By contrast, intraoral scanners eliminate this variable, precisely recording the tooth that was worked on or an entire scan of the mouth allowing for very accurate models and better fitting appliances or restorations.