The viability of 3D printing has changed many manufacturing industries, including the orthodontic appliance industry. The ability to model and print appliances to exacting specifications has allowed orthodontists to create more accurate, personalized, and effective appliances than ever before.
Continue reading to learn about 3D printing in orthodontics and what the technology means for you as you begin your new treatment.
Want to find out if you or your child needs braces? Visit Reese Orthodontics in Charleston, SC for leading orthodontic care.
What is 3D-Printing for Orthodontic Appliances?
Orthodontic appliances have been traditionally made of dental stone, a casting material that hardens in extreme heat. It can therefore be molded into appliances for different patients based on casts of their teeth. This was the standard method for creating these appliances until the 1990s.
At that point, technology became available to “print” appliances from resin or metal as directed by a file created from scans taken in the office. The printing methods have advanced in the last few decades, but the principle remains largely unchanged, regardless of whether a provider can print the appliances in-office or must send away for them from a licensed printing facility.
Importantly, most orthodontists do not offer 3D-printed metal appliances as these are still comparatively expensive to make. The resin-printed options remain the most cost-effective for both providers and patients, though improvements in technology may make the metal variants more feasible in the next few years.
Advantages of 3D Printing Appliances
Manually creating dental impressions has always been one of the messier parts of creating orthodontic appliances. The process of taking an impression, creating a cast, and molding the appliance is uncomfortable for patients and time-consuming for doctors. 3D printing offers a more efficient means of turning out an accurate appliance without needing a long appointment in the chair.
With the scanner recording all the details of a patient’s oral structures, the printer can then go to work creating a custom appliance without the intervention of the patient or the provider. Many printing facilities deliver to offices, allowing providers to save money on equipment costs and improve the efficiency of their treatment schedules.
Molds perfectly customized to a patient’s oral structures improve the efficiency of their corresponding treatments. This saves patients chair time, reduces the number of needed appointments, and increases their overall comfort during treatment.
Disadvantages of 3D Printing Appliances
One of the disadvantages of 3D-printed aligners is that a fault in the process can lead to striation, which forms lines in the normally clear materials. This can lead to “invisible” appliances becoming visible, reducing their desirability compared to traditional molding methods.
The material costs for crafting 3D-printed appliances are also comparatively high, especially with metal printers. The machines themselves can cost around $200,000, leading many offices to wait until the software development on these machines improves before investing in this trending technology. While 3D printing has revolutionized the process of manufacturing dental appliances and planning treatments, it has yet to become the cheapest option for physical appliance creation.
Finally, resin models made with a 3D printer are not recyclable, leading the FDA to omit this medical-grade resin from their list of approved materials.
Applications of 3D-Printed Appliances
The most commonly used application of 3D printing in orthodontics has been the Invisalign aligners. These clear plastic aligners are worn by patients instead of braces. They are resized incrementally as treatment progresses, a process made much easier by 3D printing methods.
However, 3D printing has applications beyond these appliances. Using the same technology, providers can create three-dimensional models of a patient’s jaw and teeth to create custom braces. Increasing the precision of these braces allows patients to receive completely personalized care, ultimately making them more comfortable and reducing their time in the chair. Customized treatments even save them extra appointments since 3D printing can automate so much of the fitting and scheduling that normally goes into a complex treatment plan.
Choose Reese Orthodontics
If you’re an adult who is considering braces, you need professional advice on your treatment and payment options. For orthodontic treatments in Charleston, SC, Reese Orthodontics offers the latest technology and treatment plans. Our advanced and comfortable orthodontic treatments can be customized to suit your needs. A consultation with Reese Orthodontics includes scans, a comprehensive exam, and a conversation with the orthodontist to discover which treatment options are right for you.
Schedule an appointment with us today to stay ahead of your oral health and receive the best possible treatment in your area.