3D printing, also know as addictive manufacturing, is the process of generating three dimensional physical objects from a computer aided design (CAD). It is achieved by the successive addiction of material (such as liquid molecules) layer by layer.
3D printing capabilities and applications have been progressing at lightning speeds, expanding into new fields and industries over the past several years. It offers huge potential for dental professionals and the medical field. 3D printing could change how restorative and cosmetic dentistry is practiced in Nigeria within the next decade.
How 3D Printing Works
In 3D printing, products are constructed layer by layer, building objects up with a material, rather than a traditional printer’s ink. 3D printing relies on CAD (Computer-Aided Design) software that dissects cross-sectional information of each layer of an object. Liquid resin and a unique ultraviolet laser harden each layer to create a solid resin substance. Simple objects can be produced now in as little as one hour, but objects with moving parts can also be constructed with today’s latest 3D printers.
Applications in Dentistry
The areas of dentistry that can most benefit from a rise in 3D printing accessibility and capabilities are those that currently require custom dental laboratory work to create very specific shapes and sizes of restorative or diagnostic tools. One of the main benefits 3D printing offers is fast solutions; lab solutions that previously would take two to three weeks can be made on-site by dental professionals in about one hour. These include:
- 3D Treatment Models – 3D images of a patient’s mouth can be taken and then digitally manipulated and changed by the dentist in order to show treatment goals or future results. Computer Aided Design (CAD) software for dental professionals can then allow the 3D model to be physically printed.
- Orthodontic Treatments – In a similar way, CAD software developed to create orthodontic aligners can use initial 3D images of a patient’s mouth to design a step-by-step orthodontic treatment to straighten and align teeth. Aligners can be printed within the dentist’s practice and will be available for immediate use.
- Restorative Services – Dental crowns, inlay, onlays, bridges, or even dentures and mouthguards can be custom-designed based on 3D patient images and printed same-day for immediate placement. Durable ceramic materials are used for printing, rather than a resin-based material.
- Dental tools: It can also be used to create resources and tools for dental and oral surgery professionals. Custom drill guides, for instance, can be printed to fit a patient’s mouth.