3D printers: Why you need to seriously start thinking about this technology

3D printing has evolved as one of the most promising technologies in virtually every field of life. From the automotive industry to garment manufacturing, food processing, and even agriculture,  3D printers have found their place in every industry, office, or home. 

The dental industry has also been reaping the benefits of 3D printing for many years. However, due to their high cost, many dentists could not afford printers a few years ago. But, things are changing now. The price of 3D printers for dental use has dropped over the years, and their sales have gone up considerably. And it’s not just the bigger brands and industries, dental hospitals, or dental schools that are buying them – you can now find 3D printers in many private dental practices, even in the rural areas. 

But how will a 3D printer prove helpful for your practice? Is it the right time to invest in a 3D printer now? Is it also suitable for maxillofacial surgeons, prosthodontists, or periodontal dentists? If you are also pondering over these questions, then read on – as this article explains why you should seriously consider buying a 3D printer for your practice. 

Why Invest in 3D Printers?

Here are a few reasons why it is about time you had joined the 3D printing bandwagon:

Like most dentists, the high cost of a 3D printer might deter you from buying one. But look at it this way. Establishing a dental laboratory is not easy either. The cost of running a dental laboratory can cost you around $100,000 per annum. Now compare this with the initial cost of a modest 3D printer. According to Smartech, a data analysis company – the price of 3D printers is expected to drop from $90,000 (in 2016) to $79,000 in 2021, including the starting supply of materials. No doubt the cost of raw materials for 3D printing is relatively high – but it’s far, far lesser than maintaining an entire dental laboratory. 

  • Your Patients Save Money 

The high cost of maintaining a dental laboratory is also reflected in your patients’ bills. A single porcelain crown made conventionally can easily cost around $2000. However, the cost of fabrication is significantly reduced with 3D printers – and you can pass this savings on to your patients as well. 

Like every other customer, patients want quick results – and they are often disappointed when they are told that they would have to wait for a few days, even weeks before their crowns or bridges are prepared. But with a 3D printer at your chairside, you can utilize the digital impression technology to design and fabricate PFM crowns and other restorations in a matter of minutes!

No matter how meticulously you make physical impressions of your patient’s teeth or how carefully your dental laboratory staff handles those models, there is always room for human error. No doubt, dental appliances prepared using 3D printers are much more dimensionally accurate than those made at the laboratory. As a result, the 3D-printed prostheses or restorations are not only aesthetically superior, but they also minimize the chances of secondary caries development or premature restoration failure. 

  • Simplified Implant Dentistry 

Dental implantologists often rely on a surgical guide for the accurate placement of the implants and their supported prostheses. These surgical guides are conventionally fabricated in the dental laboratory and carry the risk of incorporating human error. If you are an implantologist, you don’t need a fancy or pricey 3D printer for making surgical templates – even a $5000 3D printer can print dimensionally accurate surgical templates within minutes – that help simply the implant treatment for dentists. 

3D printers can be used to perform a wide range of functions at the dental chairside. The possibilities are virtually unlimited, from composite restorations and veneer fabrication using CAD-CAM technology to orthodontic models, crowns, bridges, and even dentures. According to Smartech, the three most common applications of 3D printers in dental practices – based on their market value in 2021 – are PFM substructure, dental models, and surgical guide fabrications. 

  • Cross-infection Control 

In the post-Covid-19 era, cross-infection prevention has become an even more significant concern for dentists – to ensure their staff, patients, and laboratory technicians’ safety and health. Conventionally made physical impressions pass through different hands – from the dentist or periodontal specialist to the assistant and then to the laboratory staff – increasing the chances of infection transmission. Therefore, these impressions have to be disinfected at each step. This problem is eliminated with 3D printers as they are entirely handled by the machine. 

Perhaps, the most useful application of 3D printers in dentistry is digital smile design (DSD). With this technology, dentists prepare digitally designed a new smile for a patient – correcting the cosmetic flaws – and showing them how their smile will look after the treatment. Once the patient approves the smile design, it’s just a matter of clicking “print,” – and all prostheses and restorations needed for the smile makeover will be 3D printed in no time. Thanks to DSD and 3D printing, dentists can now perform a complete cosmetic smile makeover in less than a day!

Smartech predicts that in 2021 alone, the sale of materials for 3D printing is expected to be around $310 million. Similarly, sales of software related to 3D printing are expected to reach $150 million in 2021 – and the total revenue is forecasted to be $9.7 billion by 2025. Hence, there is no doubt that. This is enough proof that 3D printers are going to be an integral part of the dentist’s office – and it is the right time to think about buying one for your practice as well!