Are 3D printed teeth the future of oral health?
Dentist and Malmö University researcher Michael Braian has been measuring the accuracy of digitally manufactured dental products, to track potential errors.
In many cases where a person requires a new crown or bridge, the dentist takes a dental impression — a negative imprint of patient's teeth and surrounding tissues — from within the patient’s mouth. This is then sent to a dental technician who creates a plaster-cast mould which is the basis for forming the dental restoration.
Nowadays, 3D printing is increasingly being used to create dental moulds. In his thesis, Digital dentistry — studies on trueness and precision of additive manufacturing and intraoral scanning, Braian looks into the precision of such modern digital technologies. Two of the four sub studies focus on how well a 3D scanner can digitally replicate patients’ teeth.
Braian designed two different forms in plastic and then compared how well the prints matched the designs.
“They were very compatible. The most accurate outcome had a difference of below the thickness of two hairs. On the other hand, there was a lot of variation between the different 3D printers; some are faster, others more precise,” Braian says.
When printing, material is added and there’s a great freedom in what shapes can be created.
Digital processes offer many advantages. Scanning can turn a patient's entire intraoral environment into three-dimensional files that dental technicians can use to make prostheses. The field has seen massive technical development, particularly with regard to plastic and printer speed.
“When printing, material is added and there’s a great freedom in what shapes can be created. Traditional milling of porcelain crowns and bridges always involves removing materials, which is costly,” says Braian, who uses 3D technology at his own dental practice.
Braian’s thesis shows that 3D scanning and 3D printers have great potential to replace or complement traditional methods of making crowns and bridges. However, Braian emphasises the need for more clinical trials.
“Mistakes get made in digital processes too, and studies conducted in a lab environment cannot just be transferred to patient care. It’s important to keep the human parameters in mind.”
Text: Magnus Jando