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A dental crown is a tooth-shaped cap that is placed over an existing tooth. It is used to restore the shape, strength, and/or size of a tooth or to improve the way that the wearer’s teeth look. The crown fully encases the portion of the tooth that is visible beyond the gum line and is cemented in place becoming a permanent part of the user’s dental work. A dental bridge is a prosthetic that is used to compensate for a missing tooth; it keeps the other teeth from migrating into the open space and therefore keeps them appropriately aligned.

These kinds of dental interventions can not only be costly, but can take a great deal of time as well since the prosthetics need to be fabricated individually for each person. However, new efforts out of Temasek Polytechnic, a university in Singapore, are promising that this kind of dental work may soon be available faster, cheaper, and better as a result of 3D printing. The new technique they are developing involves the creation of a traditional impression that is then turned into a form, just as the procedure has up until now, but then that form is scanned to create a digital model representing both its interior and exterior. That digital model is then used to create a mold, which is used to shape the exterior as well as an internal metal form used to attach the prosthetic to the receiving tooth, the researchers explain:

“The 3D printed crowns developed by TP are expected to cost 20% less and can be ready in just 4 hours compared to traditional methods which require about 12 hours. This much faster turnaround time is possible because TP uses a special mould to attach the layer of porcelain over the 3D-printed metal frame, whereas in existing 3D-printed dental crowns, a skilled craftsman needs to manually apply the porcelain coating. As a result, dental crowns produced using TP’s method will fit better and look more natural.”

The team, including (from left) Dr Sun Lingling, Dr Zhang Guangyu and project manager Lau Joo Kiang, hopes to see its technology distributed commercially by the end of next year. [Photo: Straits Times / Kelvin Chng]

Because of the accuracy of these 3D technologies, the increase in speed provided by this new method of fabrication won’t lead to a decrease in the quality of the dental prosthetics. In fact, it will actually lead to greater accuracy than was previously possible. The reduction of the possibility for human error during production also means a reduction in the amount of grinding that has to be done by hand on-site in order to have the crown or bridge fit. This, in turn, means that the cost of the prosthetic will be less as well. And the wait time for the final placement is drastically shortened, as Dr. Sun Linling, Manger of Temasek’s Microelectronics Center, explained:

“What used to take three to seven days via traditional and manpower-heavy processes can now be done in four hours. When patients go for a dental crown, they can get it within the same day, rather than wait days or even weeks.”

The team of researchers behind the new dental crown fabrication process [Image: Temasek Polytechnic]

This is especially helpful for those experiencing high levels of pain or with particularly urgent cases. As a result of the significant savings, the team is now reaching out to hospitals and clinics in order to begin the groundwork of both educating medical professionals and creating the relationships that will allow them to provide this service.The researchers, who are from the Microelectronics Center and also the Digital Fabrication and Additive Manufacturing Center (DFAMC) and working with industry partner Prexton Pte Ltd, are also working on methods whereby a patient’s teeth could be scanned directly, thereby eliminating the need for the initial impression to be made. All of this works to help patients feel more at ease, while continuing to provide the highest possible care.

What do you think of this news? Let us know your thoughts; join the discussion of this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com.

 

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