Poll of the Week: Best Dental 3D Printing Applications

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We asked our LinkedIn followers, in our very first Poll of the Week, what kinds of stories they wanted to read more of on 3DPrint.com, and the final answer was medical 3D printing. The next poll asked what kinds of medical AM applications people were interested in learning about, and the results showed that the winner was implants. This time around, we focused on 3D printing for a specific branch of medicine: dentistry. Followers were asked their opinion on the best 3D printing application for the dental market, and unsurprisingly, aligners were in first place with 43% of the 51 votes.

According to AM Research, the dental 3D printing market generated $4B in revenue in 2022, which accounted for almost one-third of the overall additive manufacturing market at that time. So it’s pretty important in the AM space. 3D printing has been used to make many different kinds of mouthguards, including drug delivery devices, guards that help athletes stay hydrated and safe, and devices that keep you from grinding and clenching your teeth while you sleep. But, it’s not one of the most popular dental applications, as evidenced by receiving only 16% of the vote in our poll. Perhaps, as one commenter suggested, we should have instead chosen permanent crowns and bridges including inlays and onlays, “as soon mechanics and esthetics will be combined in a fully regulatory validated point-of-care workflow.” Another commenter said that 3D printed dental models were a better bet.

“A safe mass market is still printing models,” he wrote.

Another choice in our poll that only received 16% of the vote was dentures. This number seemed low, but another commenter shed some possible light on this, noting that “personalised Dentures and mouth guards have existed for ages,” making the benefit of using 3D printing to manufacture these devices “marginal.” We’ve even seen published research that found little difference between dentures that were milled, injection molded, and 3D printed. But, as big names in the AM industry like Stratasys, Desktop Health, 3D Systems, and Formlabs have all invested in 3D printed dentures in the last few years, we certainly shouldn’t count this application out.

Jetted dentures. Image: 3D Systems

3D printed dental implants won 25% of the votes in our poll. Once again, the commenter pointed out that dental implants, both crowns and abutment, “existed long before 3DP was an option” and that the benefit of using 3D printing is not high for this application. But I disagree. 3D printing enables the fabrication of personalized medical devices, which can help ensure a better fit—something of critical importance when it comes to implants. One study by researchers at Seoul National University compared 3D printed dental implants with conventional ones, and found that the 3D printed implants had a higher bone-to-implant contact “in the early stage of extraction socket healing,” making them “a potential option for immediate placement to enhance osseointegration.”

As previously mentioned, aligners won this poll with 43% of the total votes. While braces encourage teeth to move by using brackets connected with wires, dental aligners are a series of custom, tight-fitting mouthpieces that slip over your teeth. As Editor-in-Chief Michael Molitch-Hou once wrote, invisible or clear aligners are one of the earliest killer 3D printing apps, helping to streamline production and lower costs.

“Once we crack direct Aligner resins and circumvent tools and forming direct aligner volumes will eclipse implants, dentures and mouth guards combined,” a poll commenter wrote.

Directly 3D Printed Clear Aligners. Image: LuxCreo.

One of our most impactful stories of 2023 was when American dental leader Align Technology, the parent company of clear aligner frontrunner Invisalign, acquired Cubicure for roughly €79 million. The TU Wien spinoff company specializes in direct 3D printing solutions for polymer additive manufacturing and made a great addition to Align’s portfolio. This acquisition would also give Align the ability to possibly shift from thermoforming aligners on 3D printed models, made with 3D Systems’ SLA printers, to direct 3D printing of dental aligners.

“While the numbers are subject to some variation, it’s estimated that Align Technologies produces about a million 3D printed aligners daily, a figure that nearly matches the combined output of its competitors,” Executive Editor Joris Peels wrote at the time. “This speaks to the significant and enduring role that 3D printing has in the production of dental aligners, a role that is now causing a seismic shift in the industry.”

Invisalign aligners. Image: Align Technology.

But, are 3D printed aligners really as good as they seem? Another commenter said he’d like to see a Poll of the Week not about what, but who, should be 3D printing for  dental applications.

“Dentist should not need to care about toxicity or implant failures neither they and dental technicians about unclear working conditions. Beyond this I believe that for the moment direct aligners are poured into the market regardless of toxicity or clinical benefit,” he continued.

Another commenter agreed with him, noting that he sometimes fears going to the dentist now when he sees “how some self called professionals abuse AM without any understanding about toxicity, hygienics or materials. Thanks god there is also good examples pushing AM in dentistry forward.”

What do you think?

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