3D printers are increasingly being used by dentists, orthodontists and dental labs to print a variety of dental products, tools, prototypes and reference models. CAD laser scanners are used to accurately measure the dimensions of a patient’s mouth or the size of the filling needed in order to print a reference model for experimentation. When innovators use 3D printers to manufacture items for the dental industry such as these they may be eligible for the Research and Development Tax Credit, which is available to stimulate innovation.
The Research & Development Tax Credit
Enacted in 1981, the federal Research and Development (R&D) Tax Credit allows a credit of up to 13 percent of eligible spending for new and improved products and processes. Qualified research must meet the following four criteria:
- New or improved products, processes, or software
- Technological in nature
- Elimination of uncertainty
- Process of experimentation
Eligible costs include employee wages, cost of supplies, cost of testing, contract research expenses, and costs associated with developing a patent. On December 18, 2015 President Obama signed the bill making the R&D Tax Credit permanent. Beginning in 2016, the R&D credit can be used to offset Alternative Minimum Tax and startup businesses can utilize the credit against $250,000 per year in payroll taxes.
3D Scanning & Reference Models
3D scanning is used by dentists and orthodontists to precisely capture their patient’s denture in 3D with a high rate of accuracy. This practice is vastly beneficial, as dental surgery procedures can be very particular. Every patient’s mouth is different and the dentist is always working in extremely small spaces. In order to understand the various intricacies of each patient’s mouth before performing surgery, practitioners use 3D printed models to educate themselves and perform experimentations before the actual surgery. These experimentations often involve printing prototypes of the planned modifications and fitting them on plaster models of the patient’s denture before the actual modification. The benefit is that the results can be analyzed and modified accordingly before being perfected for the patient’s mouth.
Currently 3D printers are used primarily for models and surgical guides. This however, is expected to change in the near future. Soon practitioners may be using 3D printers for final dental restorations. After scanning the patient’s mouth and evaluating individual variances between patients, dentists and orthodontists will then use 3D printers to directly print specific crowns, bridges, fillings and specialty products such as teeth that stay permanently white. This 3D printed process is expected to be not only easier, but also less expensive – costing about a dollar per printed tooth.
Some objects that are traditionally integrated into a patient’s mouth are already being 3D printed. For instance, retainers and aligners are quickly being 3D printed. One common problem in the dental industry involves retainers being destroyed, lost or broken. Children and young adults who wear retainers are prone to damaging or losing them during outdoor play, sports or other activities. Replacements traditionally take weeks to arrive, and that’s only after the patient goes through a procedure involving inserting a paste into their mouth which hardens into a mold to replicate the dimensions of the denture. Laser scanners and 3D printers however, can drastically improve that process. These tools can be used to scan the mouth and print a retainer which often arrives over night.
3D printers are increasingly being used by dentists, orthodontists and dental labs to print a variety of dental products, tools, prototypes and reference models. As this process evolves, practitioners will continue to adapt, modify and experiment with it. When they do, they may be eligible for R&D tax credits, which are available to stimulate innovation.
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Charles R. Goulding and Michael Wilshere of R&D Tax Savers discuss 3D printing in the dental industry.