We’ve all heard of 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing. It seems mind-boggling in some ways, as the process takes a digital file and then “prints” the data layer by layer until the object is now a three-dimensional item. The process is called “additive” because the printer lays down successive layers of material until the object is created. You could think of it, in a way, as taking an MRI, which takes slices of the scanned object and combines them into a full 3D image and going backwards. In 3D printing you take the individual layers and gradually build them into the complete item.
This new technology is already being used throughout manufacturing, but it also shows real promise in the medical world, including dentistry. If 3D printing continues to evolve, as many predict, there will no longer be a need for a dental lab to create items such as crowns or bridges. Or dental implants.
Growing like a weed
Estimates place the value of 3D printing in the dental world at around $3.5 billion. Printing systems alone now make up $500 million in investment for dental practices. By 2025, trends point to 60 percent of all dental production being handled by 3D printing.
Since we’re all about dental implants at Uptown Cosmetic and Implant Dentistry, we wonder just how 3D printing will impact dental implants. We know of at least three ways:
- Crowns, which are the technical name for the artificial tooth that is attached to the implant base, can now be fully created with a 3D printer. When we acquire this technology, Dr. Velasco will simply take a small digital wand of the patient’s existing teeth and gums, including the missing tooth area. He will then design the artificial tooth in CAD/CAM software that we already have here. This information will be sent to the 3D printer, which will then “print” the crown to finish the implant.
- This technology will speed the process of creating the artificial tooth. With our in-house lab, we currently mill the piece out of a full block of dental porcelain. At other practices, the data from the crown design is sent to an off-site dental lab, which can take up to two weeks to then fabricate the crown. Using 3D printing, your tooth can be designed and printed in less than an hour.
- The accuracy of the process can improve, as 3D printers can be used to create and then print the drill guides used for the placement of the dental implant. This doesn’t seem like a big deal, but the accuracy of placing the implant base can spell the difference between success and failure of the implant.
It looks as if 3D printing will become a huge part of the overall dental industry in the coming decade and we are excited to be one of the 1st practices in Houston to offer this amazing new technology. At Uptown Cosmetic & Implant Dentistry, Dr. Velasco takes pride in staying ahead of the curve when it comes to providing his patients the latest options available and dental technology.
Is it time for your next exam and professional cleaning? Call Uptown at 713-960-9623 to schedule your appointment.