How technology can improve global dental health


3D Printing has transformed dental care into a highly efficient, cost-cutting, speedy process, almost like magic  

Immediate results and instant fulfillment are the hallmark of modern technology. A high-quality product achieved at dizzying speed is often a source of wonderment. As British science fiction writer, Arthur C. Clarke once said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”  

Falling into this wonder-inducing category is the solid-imaging process known as 3-D Printing, patented by American inventor from Colorado, Charles “Chuck” Hull, in 1986. 3D Printing is a revolutionary product process that allows everybody to become a potential manufacturer.

In the US, undoubtedly, the dental market is the biggest player in the 3D printing industry. The reason is the existence of a $4 billion market for orthodontic, prosthetic and other dental parts. Since the recognition of the first US Certified Dental Technicians  in March, 1959, US dental labs rose to a peak with 7,863 labs in 2004.Since then, over the ensuing years, US lost 16% of its dental labs and 10% of industry employees, as they continued to lose business to Asian dental labs experienced in manually producing cheap dental parts.

Then came Hull’s Stereolithography (SLA) in 1986. In 1992, he created the world’s first SLA machine which turned out to be a game-changer in many fields, especially in dentistry.

In its latest 3D printing dental market report, Virginia-based SmarTech Publishing which provides in-depth analysis of the 3D printing industry, says it expects the US dental lab industry, which grew by over 35% in 2016 and 2017, to increase its market size to $9.5 billion by 2027. Furthermore, it believes, that by 2027, 3D printing technologies will overtake “digital subtractive milling and traditional analog fabrication processes” to become the main method of engaging in dental restorations and producing dental devices.

The recent sharp rise in the dental industry’s net worth is attributed to dental labs engaging extensively with 3D technology. In fact, modern dental clinics like Macleod Trail Dental  believe that digital dentistry is the way forward for their industry. Furthermore, with production flexibility, efficiency and accuracy, 3D Printing is likely to become the leading digital dental manufacturing process the world knows.

As dentists are aware, 3D technology has made it easier for them to execute complicated dental work that was once the exclusive territory of specialists. For instance, they are able to engage in oral scanning and CAD design before 3D printing with their own desktop 3D printer. And so, dental clinics are able to provide a more efficient and speedy service to patients in terms of teeth alignment, orthodontic appliances, 3D-printed implants and dental crowns. 3D scanning and printing allows vast improvement of efficiency in the manufacturing processes in dental labs without compromising on the quality of the finished product. This is true of resin 3D printers in the casting process and of metal 3D printers in making functional dental appliances. SmarTech Publishing finds that 3D technologies based on metal and resin will become the basis for most dental parts production in the next 10 years. Already, metal 3D printers for dental parts production, are in the market.

On a global scale, dentists are gratified by the short turnaround time in dental manufacturing processes, when using 3D scanning and 3D printing.  When producing a dental crown in the conventional manner takes two to three weeks, 3D technology gets it done in two to three days.

Thus, there is no doubt that 3D printing has become a new standard in dental care and is here to stay. With humble beginnings as Hull’s experimental efforts in a small business, 3D printing has transformed entire industries through speedy, accurate, cost-cutting technology, that could almost appear to be magic.  

It brings to mind the words of Steve Jobs, when he said, “Simpler can be harder than complex; you have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it, in the end, because once you get there, you can move mountains.”


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