The speed with which the dental industry is adopting 3D printing technology may be unrivaled in the history of 3D printing.
At EnvisionTEC, where we are a top three manufacturer of 3D printers and materials to the sector, sales of dental 3D printers grew 75% in 2016 over the prior year — with no signs of slowing.
At LMT Lab Day in Chicago this week, EnvisionTEC will preview a new Vida cDLM high-speed 3D printer for the dental industry, as well as an expansion of our industry-leading dental library.
The new Vida cDLM is actually 5-10 times faster than prior DLP technology for 3D printing, which makes it the world’s fastest dental 3D printer (for the moment). But the printer also offers an array of other key benefits, such as a drastic reduction in the number of supports needed, which allows the printer to make delicate partial frameworks for casting.
Indeed, it’s an exciting printer and time in dental 3D printing, but it’s also one that raises important questions for the future of the $4-plus billion market for dental prosthetics, orthodontic appliances and other dental parts. Because sometimes when you’re in the midst of a technology disruption like the one going on because of “digital dentistry,” it’s difficult to see the entire impact and how it will all shake out.
3D printing technology does enable patients, dentists, orthodontists and dental labs to take greater control in many ways, should they want it, and that raises lots of questions.
Consider that story about the college kid who 3D printed his own aligners to straighten his own teeth. What if he didn’t know what he was doing or used a material that wasn’t suitable for long-term use in the mouth and made him sick? Could software companies take control out of the hands of specialists and put mild cases of teeth straightening directly into the hands of patients?
And how will companies that make, say, clear aligners adapt as this manufacturing moves closer to the customer, and what kind of regulations should be in place to protect 3D printing hobbyists who want “DIY dentistry” for themselves?
The American Association of Orthodontists has even issued a statement against DIY orthodontics that mentions 3D printing.
But even within dentistry, 3D technology is making it easier for dentists to do work once only done by orthodontists and other specialists. So the technology could potentially mean new turf wars or change the way specialist lines are drawn.
For now, these are all unanswered questions that will play out over time. Meanwhile, 3D printing is helping an increasing number of customers, clinicians and labs.
For customers, there’s fewer gooey impressions, as patients increasingly get digital scans of their mouths, and 3D printing allows quicker turnaround times for dental parts, better fitting parts and, oftentimes, cost savings.
For orthodontists and clinicians, there is more control over how they may wish to move a patient’s teeth and other aspects of the treatment process.
And for dental labs, the impact has been dramatic. It’s literally bringing back manufacturing work from overseas.
US dental laboratories have been losing business for years to labs in Asia, where dental parts have been made by hand more cheaply. In fact, the number of US dental labs has declined by more than half from its peak, to about 6,500 today.
But now, 3D printing technology is flipping the business model for dental labs and bringing that business back to America. Albensi Laboratories outside Pittsburgh and Bay View Dental Laboratory in Chesapeake, VA, are just a few examples.
Since 3D printing was invented in the early 1980s, there have been lots of big promises about how the technology would transform the wide world of manufacturing. The hearing aid industry adopted 3D printing technology for mass customization rapidly and with little fanfare. And this much is clear: dentistry is next. Discuss in the Dental 3D Printing forum at 3DPB.com.
Chris Kabot is a Dental Applications Specialist at EnvisionTEC.