Research Summary: Role of 3D Printing in Dentistry

A summary of: Tian, Y., Chen, C. Xu, X. et al. A Review of 3D Printing in Dentistry: Technologies, Affecting Factors, and Applications (2021)

Three-dimensional (3D) printing technology has quickly become a much more widespread manufacturing process, with it first being introduced into dentistry in 1986 by Charles Hull. Today, it has uses in oral and maxillofacial surgery, endodontics, prosthodontics and implantology. This review aims to cover the current 3D printing techniques, factors affecting the process itself, and clinical applications. 

3D printing is based on computer aided design (CAD), and has advantages over traditional lab work since it is much more precise and has the most customization available. It can quickly manufacture complex shapes and moulds and replicate this every time. This in turn leads to less wastage and higher profit and production of more complex designs. However, this technology is still in its infancy, and has a large processing and material cost. Furthermore, one study compared lab made crowns with 3D printed crowns and presented findings that suggested that lab made crowns may still have a better fit in comparison to their 3D printed counterparts. This suggests that much more research needs to be done in this field for it to replace traditional lab work.

The main 3D printing technologies that exist are as follows: powder bed fusion, light curing and fused deposition modelling. The table below serves to illustrate the advantages and materials available to use for each technology.

The review goes on to describe areas in which 3D printing is pertinent in dentistry, including crowns and bridges, complete dentures, removable partial dentures, occlusal splints, surgical implants and custom trays. Fascinatingly, 3D design is not limited to non-biological materials, and efforts are being made to progress towards using soft tissue biomaterials and stem cells in order to facilitate the possibility of ideas like the regeneration of periodontal tissue. Nevertheless, the authors emphasise that further research should be done to reduce the negative impact in some areas that currently exist in 3D printing. This includes the fact that 3D technology requires high-cost printing equipment, along with the software to run it. They also recognise that currently 3D printing is not valid in emergency cases, as the file acquisition takes too long. 

In the future, the authors hope that research into materials used for printing are further developed and that more operators are trained to use the technology. The review discusses the fact that in order to overtake traditional methods, 3D printing must be more cost-effective and be consistently reliable to have a place in the market. Authors conclude by stating that even though there are many research and technology hurdles to overcome in 3D printing, they anticipate it will have a bright future and that it firmly has a place in dentistry. 

Research Summary Written by: Tarrika Pengwah, University of Manchester – BDS4

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