Charles Goulding and Rafaella July discuss 3D printing in the dental industry.
Dentistry is one of the largest contributors to the additive manufacturing industry. The industry utilizes additive manufacturing for a variety of reasons including the production of models, molds, scanning, producing bridges, crowns, dentures, aligners, surgical guides, and more. According to MarketWatch, the dental 3D printing market is expected to reach $3.5 million in revenue by 2024.
When 3D printing was first being used in dentistry, dental labs were primarily printing models and surgical guides, not products that would remain with patients. Today, additive manufacturing is being utilized to make quality products that are long-lasting and precisely customized to each patient. Dental 3D printing is continuously being evolved, by research institutions as well as private companies, to encompass all aspects of dentistry.
Intraoral 3D Scanners
The first step to update a dental office or lab’s technology to 3D printing is to update the manner in which the patient’s mouth is observed and examined. Traditionally, a dental impression of the patient’s mouth is taken using a material called alginate. Anyone who has gotten a dental impression knows how uncomfortable it is to have the gooey material in your mouth. As a result, dental offices have started to use 3D scanners in lieu of alginate impressions.
Intraoral cameras are especially designed to scan the inside of a patient’s mouth. Three-dimensional scanners, like the TRIOS from 3Shape, create highly accurate digital impressions of the mouth with just a camera. Intraoral scanners are small and lightweight tools that eliminate the need for extra materials such as impression trays and alginate. Scanners are especially useful for 3D printing dental labs as it automatically creates a CAD model of the patient’s mouth that lab technicians can directly work on to design custom crowns, bridges, or whatever the patient needs.
Models and Surgical Guides
As previously mentioned, 3D printing has seen great use in the dental field to create models of patients’ mouths and surgical guides. Using a surgical guide decreases the risk of making a mistake during a procedure as it directs the surgeon to the area that needs to be worked on and limits movement to the surrounding area. Additionally, it reduces the amount of time spent on the procedure and enhances patient outcomes. Many dental labs have their own in-house 3D printers to create surgical guides. Dental surgeons often print out a few slightly varying surgical guides in order to have some options should the original plan fall out during the procedure.
The type of material used to 3D print surgical guides and models is especially important. The material must be biocompatible, durable, and able to form into any shape in order to create a highly accurate model. Additive manufacturing dental experts, such as Formlabs, developed dental resin specifically for 3D printed surgical guides. The Dental SG resin, a biocompatible and autoclavable material, was designed for 3D printing precise surgical guides for accurate implant placement.
Dental Crowns, Implants, Bridges, and Frameworks
After years of research and development, dental 3D printing has advanced to the point of directly printing out a product to be temporarily, or even permanently, placed in a patient’s mouth. This has made a significant impact on the turnaround production time of dental products and overwhelmingly improved patient outcomes.
The traditional method of creating dental products is milling. It is a labor-intensive process that is used due to its precision and wide range of materials. Milling is a subtractive method where a block of material is cut to form a desired shape or design. Evidently, a lot of material is wasted during the milling process. In contrast, 3D printing wastes little to no material during production. Additive manufacturing is not exactly an easier method, but a more cost-effective method as there is no wasting of raw material. Both methods have their pros and cons and many dental labs are turning to hybrid manufacturing, a combination of both milling and 3D printing for their dental products.
As previously mentioned, 3D printing can reduce product turnaround production time from a few weeks to a few days. Digitization – such as intraoral scanning – plays a large role in this as it allows patient files to be shared between dental offices and dental labs. Once a dental product has been designed, a model may be 3D printed for the patient to try on and see if any adjustments need to be made. The prosthetic is then 3D printed, cast with metal and porcelain, and painted to fit the patient’s characteristics.
These innovative institutions and companies can take advantage of the Federal Research and Development Tax Credit to further support their advancements in dental 3D printing.
The Research & Development Tax Credit
Enacted in 1981, the now permanent Federal Research and Development (R&D) Tax Credit allows a credit that typically ranges from 4%-7% of eligible spending for new and improved products and processes. Qualified research must meet the following four criteria:
Must be technological in nature
Must be a component of the taxpayer’s business
Must represent R&D in the experimental sense and generally includes all such costs related to the development or improvement of a product or process
Must eliminate uncertainty through a process of experimentation that considers one or more alternatives
Eligible costs include US employee wages, cost of supplies consumed in the R&D process, cost of pre-production testing, US contract research expenses, and certain costs associated with developing a patent.
On December 18, 2015, President Obama signed the PATH Act, making the R&D Tax Credit permanent. Beginning in 2016, the R&D credit can be used to offset Alternative Minimum tax for companies with revenue below $50MM and for the first time, startup businesses can obtain up to $250,000 per year in payroll taxes and cash rebates.
Additive manufacturing has been especially useful in the dental industry for its widespread application. Innovations in the field have evidently resulted in the advancement of dental technology. As 3D printing continues to evolve so will its usefulness in the dental world.