Monday, April 29, 2019

3D Printing is About to Change Dentistry...

 
 
 
 

In dentistry, for years now we’ve been using CAD/CAM to create restorations via CEREC and E4D.  Those systems used digital capture of preps via acquisition devices that also doubled as design devices that communicated with mills.  The mill would  take a block of porcelain and then, using diamond drill bits and servo step motors, cut the porcelain into the required shape.  This process of milling is referred to as “subtractive manufacturing” because it takes a larger piece and reduces it down to the necessary smaller size.


In the world of 3D printing, we’re dealing with an ”additive manufacturing”  process because we’re starting with a blank slate and adding material together to create the necessary shape.  There are currently 2 ways to do this in the world of dentistry.  The first is referred to FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) and is the one most people think of when hearing the term “3D Printing”.  FDM takes a filament of plastic (usually PDA or polylactic acid) , melts it, and then injects it onto the build platform via an extrusion nozzle.  This nozzle lays down thin layer upon thin layer and the process builds from the bottom up.  This process is handy for things that don’t require an incredible amount of accuracy such as a custom impression tray.


The second type is SLA (Stereolithography).  It uses a vat of a liquid resin which is specifically cured using a laser beam and incredibly accurate positioning mirrors to cure the liquid resin into the desired shape.  The very basic explanation is that it is similar to dental composites.  A plastic that is cured by a specific wavelength of light with incredibly accurate results.  The SLA systems are the principle ones being used in dentistry because of the ability to use a variety of light cured materials and also due to their accuracy.  The MoonRay SLA unit I am currently evaluating has accuracy settings of 100 microns, 50 microns, and 20 microns.  Obviously the amount of accuracy needed is determined by what is being printed.

The great news is that, in addition to their accuracy, these devices are incredibly affordable.  The highly accurate SLA type systems can be purchased for way less than $10K which makes them a great option for doing all kinds of things in the dental practice.


I’m currently working with both types of printers, but my evaluations are just starting.  Expect much more on 3D printing as I get much further into the processes and much further down the 3D rabbit hole...

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