Since the introduction of the first 3D printing technology in 1986, additive manufacturing has been showing impressive growth in the constantly increasing range of industries adopting the cutting-edge technologies. Dentistry is among those taking all the benefits of 3D printing most willingly and rapidly.
This is Top 3D Shop, and in this article, we are going to discuss different aspects of digital dentistry and find out which 3D printing solutions are the best fit for this application.
The traditional workflow in dentistry implies the cooperation of two parties involved in the process — dental clinics on the one side and prosthesis laboratories on the other, the interaction between the two requiring quite a lot of time and logistics. Since every patient has a unique dentition, dental labs mostly use manual production methods which are usually slow and assume the work of highly skilled dental technicians, still leaving a lot of room for probable imperfections in the final result. The use of 3D printing provides wide opportunities for low-cost mass customization, saving time and ensuring extremely high precision of printed models. A wide range of dedicated biocompatible materials with various properties allows for the creation of orthodontic models, crowns and bridges, surgical guides, aligners, retainers, splints, dentures, and other dental products that perfectly match the patient’s anatomy.
Aligner production is an example of using 3D printing as a bridge to traditional manufacturing methods. First the dentist takes the impression of the patient’s mouth by means of intraoral scanning with further converting the scanned data to a CAD model, which is then edited to specify the stages of desired teeth shifting. When this is done, the model for each stage is printed, usually employing SLA technology. After that each printed model is placed into a thermoforming machine where a clear aligner is wrapped around it creating the patient-specific set of aligners.
Surgical guides are used in medicine, dentistry in particular, to assist the surgical procedures. In dentistry surgical guides are of great help in implantation as they ensure the precise placing and fitting of the implant. The guides are placed directly over the patient's teeth and then removed during or after the surgery when no longer needed. Surgical guides not only increase the accuracy of the procedure, but also make it faster and less invasive thus shortening the recovery time. Different manufacturers offer special surgical guide resins to ensure the best printing results.
3D printed dental crowns are becoming more widespread with the development of new biocompatible materials. First additive manufacturing was used only as a bridge to investment casting process helping create accurate casting patterns. Now there are a variety of materials, from special permanent crown resins, like Formlabs Digital Dentures Resin, to various metal alloys, that allow printing high-quality permanent crowns taking all the advantages 3D printing provides.
Dental full arch or crown and bridge models with removable dies help dentists while planning denture restoration. Dental models are printed based on the digital impression of the patient's mouth so they are indispensable when it comes to checking fixed prosthetics that will be later used in a patient's treatment. Special materials, like Formlabs Dental Model Resin allow for precise models with matte smooth surface and a high level of detail.
The process of 3D printing in dentistry always starts with the dentist taking a digital impression of a patient’s mouth with an intraoral or desktop scanner. The obtained data is converted to a CAD model which can be saved and then used as a basis for creating dental print models when needed. The digital model is sliced using appropriate software and sent to the printer. Once printed, dental parts usually require some post-processing steps depending on the technology and type of material used.
The process of dental 3D printing is mainly automated and generally requires less special skills than dental technician’s work. Still, certain training is required, especially for those not familiar with additive manufacturing technologies in general. 3D printing equipment and material manufacturers usually offer training programs and support for their customers. In fact, digital dentistry allows for chair-side creation of some patient-specific dental products, while more complex parts have to be printed in dental labs by skilled professionals.
As mentioned, a dental 3D scanner (for example, Shining 3D Aoralscan 3) is used to capture the patient’s dental anatomy and take a digital impression of their teeth and gums. This digital impression is converted to a CAD file that is edited to create a digital model of the specific dental product, for example, a crown, depending on the particular case and treatment plan.
In traditional dentistry trays are used to get a patient's teeth impression, usually with plaster. The implementation of 3D technologies offers much more convenient and precise digital impressions made with an intraoral scanner. Yet impression trays are still widely used in dentistry either by those who prefer conventional methods, or in cases when digital scanning is impossible for some reason. The use of standard trays has always been a compromise as they can not guarantee the necessary precision which a custom-made 3D printed tray provides. The process of printing is the same as with other dental products, and the final result ensures getting highly precise dental products in a shorter time. Different manufacturers offer special resins for impression trays production.
Print precision is one of the key points to be considered when choosing a dental 3D printer. If you are going to print not only educational models just to show your patients the treatment process in detail (in that case almost any desktop 3D printer will do), but working dental products, then you should look for a high resolution device, as even subtle discrepancy can lead to a completely unsatisfying result.
Speed is always of great importance when it comes to business. High print speeds are helpful, whether we speak about dental labs or in case of chair-side printing in dental clinics, where rapid printing helps minimize the number of a patient’s appointments with the dentist.
It’s by far the main feature the printer should possess to be called dental. All dental products that come in contact with the patient’s mouth or skin should be certified biocompatible in your area, so it’s highly recommended to check the material compatibility list while choosing a dental 3D printer.
The Phrozen Sonic MEGA 8K is a compact resin 3D printer featuring an extremely high resolution provided by an 8K 15" monochrome LCD panel. Alongside the spacious build volume of 330 x 185 x 400 mm and the minimum layer thickness of only 10 microns, the Sonic MEGA 8K is an excellent choice for printing dental models as it is capable of producing batches of exceptionally detailed objects with great accuracy.
The manufacturer also offers a number of special dental resins, including castable, high-temp, low-irritation and water-washable resin for dental models.
The device is operated via a 5" touchscreen and is compatible with CHITUBOX slicer software.
The Sinterit Lisa Pro is a compact SLS-based 3D printer that can produce high-quality parts comparable to those made by industrial-size devices. The Lisa Pro features a build volume of 110 x 160 x 245 mm and is compatible with all Sinterit powders, like PA11, PA12, FLEXA or TPE, as well as the materials by third-party manufacturers. The device can print layers with the minimum height of 75 microns. The built-in camera and the 7" color touchscreen provide easy operation and control. The Lisa Pro comes with Sinterit Studio software which is intuitive and easy to use.
The FlashForge Hunter is a compact resin DLP-based 3D printer with a build volume of 120 x 67.5 x 150 mm. The Hunter can print layers at a minimum height of 25 microns and is capable of producing high-quality detailed parts. The self-developed proprietary Light Engine with the unique closed-loop feedback light intensity control system provides uniform light exposure allowing for accurate precise prints. The printer is equipped with a 3.5" touchscreen and boasts a lot of connectivity options. The Hunter is an open material system, so it is compatible with a wide range of resins, including special dental types.
The Uniz NBEE is a resin LCD-based 3D printer designed specially for the dental industry. The NBEE features extremely high print speed, being able to produce six dental models in 5 minutes. The printer’s build volume is 192 x 120 x 180 mm. With the minimum layer height of 25 microns, the device prints aligners, removable dies, surgical guides, crowns, bridges, and other dental appliances with exceptional quality. The NBEE can print either with a wide range of special Uniz photosensitive dental resins or with third-party materials.
The Creality HALOT MAX is a resin LCD 3D printer that boasts a massive build volume of 293 x 165 x 300 mm and a large 13.3" 4K monochrome LCD screen. The proprietary ILS (integral light source) system makes for the high level of detail and dimensional accuracy of prints. The minimum layer height is 30 microns, which ensures smooth surface finish of the printed parts. The HALOT MAX can be controlled via a 5" touchscreen or remotely using the built-in Wi-Fi module. The printer is an open material system, so it can print with all compatible resins.
The Anycubic Photon Mono X is an LCD-based resin 3D printer with a build volume of 192 x 120 x 245 mm. The device is equipped with a monochrome 8.9" 4K LCD screen and features a new parallel light source for more uniform light exposure. The Photon Mono X boasts high print speed and incredible print quality with the minimum layer height of only 10 microns, which makes it a perfect fit for a dental lab. The printer can come as the part of a complete solution, including, apart from the Photon Mono X, the Anycubic Wash and Cure Machine 2.0.
The Ultimaker S5 is a professional FDM 3D printer. The device features a dual-extrusion system which allows multi-material or multi-color printing, as well as printing PVA water soluble support structures. The large print bed of 330 x 240 x 300 mm provides the possibility to print large objects or multiple smaller parts at a time. The fully enclosed build chamber and a heated print bed allow printing with ABS-type materials. The S5 can print with a variety of filaments, including PLA, Tough PLA, Nylon, ABS, CPE, CPE+, PC, TPU 95A, PP, PVA, and others.
The Formlabs Form 3B+ is based on proprietary LFS (Low Force Stereolithography) technology that is aimed at improving the surface finish of the prints. The Form 3B+ is designed for digital dentistry and can print with minimum layer thickness of 25 microns. The build volume of the printer is 145 x 145 x 185 mm. The device can come alone or with post-processing equipment, including the Form Wash and Form Cure machines. Formlabs offers a wide range of biocompatible resins for different dental appliances (for example, Formlabs Dental LT Clear Resin).
The Farsoon FS121M is an MLS (metal laser sintering) printer that can perform as a reliable and efficient device for a number of industries, dentistry being one of them. The FS121M sports a large build volume, which is a cylinder of ⌀ 120 x h 100 mm, and a high build speed, allowing for the production of up to 160 dental crowns in 3 hours. The device is equipped with a single 200W fiber laser, used in the Flight series printers. The Farsoon FS121M is a fully open system, providing compatibility with a great number of proprietary and third-party metal powders, including 316L, 17-4PH, Maraging Steel Grade 300, HX, Cu, CuSn10, CoCrMoW, and CoCrMo.
The NXE400 is an industrial resin 3D printer based on proprietary Lubricant Sublayer Photo-curing (LSPc) technology. Due to this technology, the NXE400 is by far one of the fastest resin 3D printers in the market. The machine features a large build volume of 274 x 155 x 400 mm. The print quality the NXE400 is capable of is incredibly high. The NXE400 can be regarded as a reliable 3D printer for a dental lab, as now it supports all biocompatible photopolymer dental resins by Keystone Industries. Apart from that, the NXE400 is compatible with a wide range of other resins, including xPeek, xABS, and xFlex.
The BLT-A160D is an industrial-grade SLM metal 3D printer designed specifically for the dental industry. The machine can print with Titanium and Cobalt Chromium alloys that are widely used in dentistry for producing high-quality stents and dentures. The A160D features a build volume of 160 x 160 x 100 mm and can print 20 cobalt chromium brackets for 7 hours or 20 two-way titanium alloy stents for 4 hours. The minimum layer height of 10 microns allows printing durable parts with smooth surface finish. Two 200W lasers ensure fast and accurate printing. The intelligent software provides real-time monitoring of the printing process, a safety interlocking mechanism, and a self-diagnostics function.
For today, the most popular technology for dental 3D printing is vat photopolymerization, which includes SLA, DLP and LCD-based processes, all of them using liquid resins that are cured by a light source. Hence the choice of special dental resins in the market is really vast. All dental resins are biocompatible and can be used for printing temporary or permanent dental parts with required properties.
SLS technology is also used in dentistry as it can work with different metal alloys, for example, titanium, producing durable extremely precise models in a short time.
One more popular technology for 3D printing is material jetting that prints with liquid materials — plastics or polymers — which are cured by UV light. The technology boasts the exceptional accuracy of the printed models, but the printers utilizing this technology are usually bulky and expensive.
As for FDM technology, despite its popularity in a lot of other industries, it is not widely used in dentistry, as FDM printers usually demonstrate lower accuracy than the other technologies mentioned above.
Almost all dental 3D printing solutions include proprietary software specially designed for dental practices and labs. It usually guides the user through all the stages starting with uploading a 3D scan to a CAD file with the following creation of a 3D digital model of the custom-tailored dental product. The slicer converts the CAD model to a printable file, usually STL, and prepares the model for printing. When the task is done, the software sends the print job to the printer.
The use of dedicated software recommended by the manufacturer provides maximum compatibility and ensures the best results without any downtimes.
Printing with resins, which is the most popular material in digital dentistry, always implies several post-processing steps; that is why a lot of dental printers can be purchased as part of a complete solution, including, besides the printer itself, machines for washing and post-curing the printed parts.
Compact dental resin 3D printers suitable for in-office printing can cost about a few thousand dollars, while industrial-grade large machines’ price can be as high as tens of thousands dollars and more. Such devices are good for dental labs with big production volumes as they allow for fast continuous printing thus providing the fast ROI.
The startup price is rather high.
Dental 3D printing requires special training (usually provided by the printer’s manufacturer).
Not all materials can be used for 3D printing (though the existing variety is already wide enough and growing constantly).
Dental 3D printing is one of the most rapidly growing additive manufacturing industries, and its popularity among both practitioners and patients is easily explained. Digital dentistry saves time and money, provides much higher quality of the printed dental appliances, and makes the treatment less painful and invasive for the patient and more convenient for the dentist.