We share potential hazards regarding 3D printing and how you can avoid them in your in-house lab.
Per the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, the popularity of 3D printers is growing exponentially for a couple of reasons. First, recently graduated dentists are digital natives not intimidated by technology. These dentists appreciate how additive manufacturing enhances the patient experience and creates new possibilities for CAD solutions.1
This begs the question: is using a 3D printer safe for the team and if not, what should practice stakeholders do to ensure that it is? We researched and here’s what we found.
Some 3D Printed Materials Can Be Hazardous to Our Health
The potential health hazards associated with 3D printing depend upon the printer and the materials used. The CDC identified some common risks associated with 3D printing that include:2
Recent research conducted by the Chemical Insights Research Institute (CIRI), a non-profit organization affiliated with safety research specialist Underwriters Laboratories, also highlights the potential health risks associated with 3D printing emissions, even in small quantities. In a recent toxicity study, CIRI researchers discovered that exposure to fumes generated during the printing of ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene), or PLA (polylactic acid) filaments, 2 popular thermoplastics, that can lead to airway cellular injury and inflammation.3
Dental practices print with many different types of materials, mostly biocompatible, polymer-based 3D printed resins. International Dentistry’s 2022 publication suggests that this is because they result in printed objects with excellent physical properties regarding elasticity and tensile strength. In addition to the resins, there are also limited applications of metals and ceramics.4 So, there is less ABS and PLA involved. However, breathing in any of these materials used for dental while printing probably isn’t a good idea either.
So, Where is The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in All This?
Since there are risks here, and dental is in the health care field, it feels like the FDA should be involved, and they are. However, there are no specific regulations for 3D printed workflow; only the regulations that are required for all dental devices (Part 820 Quality System Regulation).
In 2016, the FDA released a draft guidance titled "Technical Considerations for Additive Manufactured Devices" to offer advice to manufacturers utilizing 3D printing techniques to produce devices. This draft guidance was made available for public feedback and does not currently have the status of a final or effective document.5
The draft guidance is divided into 2 main sections:
Many organizations have weighed in with their recommendations, too. For example, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) continues to look into the potential hazards of 3D printing, as well as how to protect those that work with them.2
How to Protect Your Team When 3D Printing
Amongst the many sources we found, there is a general agreement on a few standard precautions a dental practice should take. The scientists at CIRI recommend including discussions on operating extrusion 3D printers from a safe distance, as well as implementing ventilation and filtration mitigation strategies, in the safety guidelines concerning these machines.3
NIOSH also conducted extensive research on mitigating exposure to hazards associated with 3D printing. Several measures have been identified to reduce risks, including:
The following 13 3D printing precautions were assembled by Graphic Products, a workplace labeling and signage company, from the recommendations from Carnegie Mellon University, University of Florida, and University of Vermont:6
Safety + Health, an NSC Safety publication, adds that dental practices should give the printer extruder time to cool down before getting the printed product. Having patience here can limit potential burns from hot surfaces. Also, they warn that the dental practice should notice the state of the power cords to avoid electrical shocks. In addition, having visual aids, like warning stickers on the printer or the printing room door for areas too hot to touch or about some other hazard is essential—and should be where operators can’t miss them.7
Moreover, there are some things that are critical to consider about the printer maintenance. Per the International Journal of Environment Research and Public Health, it is essential to clean the surface of the printed dental devices and the printer with isopropyl alcohol (IPA). However, it is crucial to handle the excess methacrylate and other uncured resin monomer sediments dissolved in IPA as hazardous waste, and proper management should be ensured by engaging a waste disposal company.
It’s also a good idea to keep the printer isolated. There shouldn’t be eating or drinking around it, and rounding mats for static electricity are a good idea.8
There is a low risk of fire, but that doesn’t mean there is no risk. Purchasing a printer that has a thermal runway feature is good idea as it shuts down the printer automatically if it is getting too hot. In addition, ensure that the 3D printer isn’t around flammable material and that the room where it is has a smoke detector installed.8
It is important to mention that what NIOSH has learned so far is that none of the dangers related to 3D printing are unmanageable, even the chemical and particulate challenges.2 In other words, dental practices can control the risks and exposures related to 3D Printing, and protect their teams by being aware of the risks, paying attention to these safety details, and communicating them to the team.