Current materials for 3-D printing are:
Electronically conductive plastics
Metal alloys and foil
Full color sandstone
Bio-ink make of cells and stem cells for tissue generation
Nylon (In March 2013, a fully-articulated nylon, 3-D printed gown was unveiled by designers Francis Bitoni and Michael Schmidt. The dress had 3,000 joints, allowing the dress to seductively flow with the woman who wore it.)
Presently, 3-D printing is being used in dental laboratories around the world. Orthodontic labs are using it to make models and aligners, and restorative labs are using it to make patterns for fixed prosthodontics, surgical guides, and complete removable dentures. According to iData Research, the U.S. prosthetics market reached over $11 billion in 2010, and will grow another $5 billion over the next five years due mainly to digital technologies. The leader of the pack in printers is the Stratasys’ Object Eden260V, which won the 2013 Product Award – Top Innovative Equipment from The Dental Advisor magazine in January, and the Reader’s Choice Award from Dental Lab Products in 2011 for its high accuracy (down to 6 microns), outstanding surface detail, and easy management and maintenance. CAD software is getting better too.
Home 3-D printers are becoming smaller and more affordable as well.
3-D printing services are also available through the iPhone, iTouch, or iPad. Scuplteo offers a free app on which you can design objects that Scuplteo will 3-D print and ship to you within a few days. You can even take an image of yourself to incorporate in your designs, and then share your designs via FaceBook and Twitter. William Dante, of the Association of 3D Printing feels that the dental market will exponentiate in the coming years.
After investigating this technology and looking at how far digital technology has come, it will surely only be a matter of time before we bridge the gap between the expensive and highly accurate 3-D printers and the inexpensive, inaccurate home-use printers. If I could print composite restorations, this could be a wonderful solution to the effort of layering composite and those pesky contact problems of direct placement of Class IIs. Perhaps with one or two scans of the tooth with a wand connected via Wi-Fi to my iPhone, I could design a composite and print it chairside. Maybe one day I will be able to print my models in my office rather than take alginates and pour them up in stone, which with every step allows for error. If I can’t find exactly what I want to wear in my closet, I will print a new dress by purchasing the latest fashion from my favorite designer, all while printing my breakfast.