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    Why the future looks bright for 3D printing

    Technological and materials advances mean big things for labs, doctors and – ultimately – patients

    The mass emerges slowly and steadily, still wet from the primordial ooze from which it originated. As it rises, its features are gradually revealed. With every passing moment, it becomes more definite, more apparent that something it is metamorphosing from, seemingly, nothing.

    No, this isn't a scene from the 1991 movie “Terminator 2” – it is the model of a lower arch being 3D printed on an M2 3D printer, made by manufacturer Carbon.

    While this technology is different from conventional 3D printing technologies, there are more improvements ahead. Currently, 3D printing at dental labs is only used for models and surgical guides for implant placements, but expect important changes in the next year or so – and expect even more Earth-shattering advancements in the years to come.

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    The near future

    Carbon’s technology is a radical take on the 3D printing process.

    “We are using light to cure UV-curable resins,” Elle Meyer, Director of Business Development, Medical Technologies at Carbon,ß says. “What's really unique about our technology is we have a window that is not only transparent to light, but also permeable to oxygen. And as a result of it being oxygen permeable, we have a dead zone at the surface of the window where polymerization is inhibited. It's really that dead zone that allows us to draw the parts out of the liquid without having a mechanical delamination step that you'd see with more conventional 3D printing approaches.

    In the near term, experts expect the ability to 3D print final dental restorations in different colors.

    “What I see coming down the line in the next six months to a year, is probably the finalization and wide adoption of 3D-printed restorations,” Chris Kabot, Dental Applications Specialist at EnvisionTEC, says. “Whether that is a final restoration or a temporary restoration. We're going to have a number of new shades that we're going to be able to print, and those shades won’t just be for temporary restorations.”

    Mark Ferguson, General Manager at Vulcan Custom Dental, says hybrid manufacturing – a combination of both milling and printing – will help improve cases where high accuracy is important – like the creation of implants.

    “You'll get the basic shape, whether it's laser-sintered or some other technology,” he says. “So, you'll print your part, but in places where you need higher accuracy, you would then have a jig or something else to transfer that part from the 3D printer to a milling machine. With 3D printing metals, you can get some more complex shapes that you would never get with milling. You could 3D print them and have a nicer surface for acrylic or porcelain application, but then still get the accuracy that you need for a perfect fit in the mouth.”

    3D printing the final restoration will not only be easier, but will also be less expensive – costing about a dollar per printed tooth

    “The cost it takes to mill is pretty high, because you have about 30 percent waste,” Kabot says. “When you print, not only is the material cheaper for raw material costs, but there's no waste associated with printing.”

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    Next: What will technology look like down the road?

    Robert Elsenpeter
    Robert Elsenpeter is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Dental Products Report and Digital Esthetics. He is also the author ...


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