By Dr. John White
While 3D printing may seem like a recent manufacturing trend, Align Technology—the manufacturers of Invisalign—pioneered 3D printing technology in healthcare several decades ago, when it created a process that uses 3D printing to make clear aligners. These sets of clear aligners are worn by patients in stages to slowly move their teeth until they have straightened to their final position.
Although some orthodontists, like me, have purchased a 3D printer to use in their practice, there is no way we can directly print clear aligner trays that can be used to move teeth—yet. Currently, we can direct print a retainer-type appliance made out of a more rigid plastic for mouth guards and some other applications However, we cannot do it for the staged movement of teeth because it requires a certain type of plastic that delivers force and a continuous level that is not too high or too low.
My 3D printer cannot compete with the quality I get from the Invisalign lab, and currently there is no software available for private practitioners allowing them to stage the aligners to move teeth to the desired position.
I do use my 3D printer to a lesser degree in my office to print out models for retainers and for design practice, and I’m sure I will integrate it into more functions over the next 10 years as technology evolves.
I invest significant money in technology to provide benefits to my patients. And while I have not fully integrated my 3D printer as much as some other equipment, such as my intraoral scanner, I know the technology I have invested in has paid off when I see a patient walk out my door smiling.