While 3D printing for dental applications is generally recognized as a mature technology, material innovation continues apace.
An emerging trend has been for machine and material suppliers to augment their portfolios by working with or acquiring outside partners.
At 3D Systems, NextDent founder Rik Jacobs now serves as vice president and general manager of dental applications. He noted how decades of dental materials experience is being distilled to realize faster production.
“As we were already a dental materials company, we know exactly what kinds of materials and what kinds of ISO standards for intended uses are needed to perform long-term in that application,” Jacobs said. “We have a test laboratory and a QC laboratory, and machines to simulate the environment in mouth to see how certain materials perform under certain conditions.
“The mouth is a very complicated environment. It’s warm, it’s wet, and there is a lot of wear and tear: food, medication, contact. Material should be able to perform under these circumstances for a long period of time for the intended use. That’s different per application. A denture should be able to have lot of chewing strength all over the mouth across the entire surface; a crown is a single application.”
3D Systems serves 12 dental applications, Jacobs said. “We already have seen more than 1 million dental devices printed in the past two years. When you think about model printing for dental applications, there are 350,000 to 400,000 prints per day.” Material for its NextDent 5100 machine, which uses the company’s Figure 4 technology, allows users to scan a bottle of material and then signals the printer to employ the proper setting for the build style. 3D Sprint software automatically slices the CAD files, the operator pours resin into the tray, and the print starts. The base prints in about 45 minutes, with 10 minutes of post curing. Two printers can print the tooth arch and base at about the same time. With subtractive methods, an upper and lower denture took the technician about five hours.
Carbon touts its Lucitone digital dentures as the “industry’s first premium 3D printed denture,” created in partnership with Dentsply. Lucitone is engineered specifically for Carbon’s Digital Light Synthesis (DLS) process. In fact, Dentsply’s Food and Drug Administration filing “specifically mentions our platform,” Rolland said. “They find they get improved properties from our layerless approach, where you don’t have fully cured layers of resin with very weak interfacial bonding between layers. Our part behaves very much as a monolithic component. That yields tremendous advantages in terms of mechanical properties of the denture base.”
Carbon’s philosophy, said Jason Rolland, senior vice president of materials, “is that there are a lot of companies that have resins that they have already taken through FDA approval for certain applications like dentures or surgical guides or splints. Our strategy here has been rather than repeat that work, we would take those resins and certify them for use on our printer. We’ve done I think more than a dozen if you count different shades of color for dentures … we’ve certified over a dozen of those third-party dental materials.”
Formlabs offers more than 10 dental materials—including four base shades and six tooth shades—for its new Form 3B printer, said Director of Healthcare Gaurav Manchanda, including a biocompatible Surgical Guide Resin developed in-house. Formlabs’ four new shades in its Dentures material library are Denture Base RP Resin (reddish pink), Denture Base DP Resin (dark pink), Denture Teeth A3 Resin, and Denture Teeth B2 Resin. “The company continues to improve and launch new print settings for its legacy Dental SG and Dental LT materials as well,” Manchanda said.
The ease of switching between different materials is what sets Formlabs apart from other versions, he continued. “Dental and medical professionals can use the same machine with Formlabs’ complete library of resins, making it more versatile and accessible than other 3D printing options.”
Having entered the dental market in 2016, Formlabs has seen its machines used to print 13 million dental parts, Manchanda said, including dentures, clear aligners and restorative models. “With affordable, easy-to-use 3D printing technology, dentists are capable of providing customized care faster than ever before. Formlabs’ systems provide the dental industry with a digital workflow that focuses on speed, precision and accuracy.”
To improve throughput, Formlabs introduced the Form Cell, a fully automated production unit featuring up to 10 desktop SLA printers using software that supports queue prioritization for nonstop, around-the-clock print runs without technician supervision.
In orthodontics, HP is “seeing a reinvention of the $12 billion orthodontics industry with 3D printing,” said Lee Dockstader, director of market development for HP 3D printing and digital manufacturing. HP’s collaboration with SmileDirectClub is providing clear aligners to millions of customers. SmileDirectClub uses 49 HP Jet Fusion printing systems running 24/7 to produce more than 50,000 unique mouth molds a day, with the capability to produce nearly 20 million 3D printed mouth molds in 12 months.
“HP and SmileDirectClub also launched a new recycling program, in which excess 3D material and already processed plastic mouth molds are recycled by HP and turned into pellets for traditional injection molding, leading to more sustainable production,” Dockstader added.
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