Mar 4, 2016 | By Benedict

Dental specialists at the University of Louisville School of Dentistry have developed a protocol for digitally aided dental surgery. The protocol involves 3D scanning a patient’s teeth, jaw, and gums, CNC milling a set of temporary restoration teeth, and 3D printing surgical models and templates.

Losing teeth is one of the most commonly reported recurring nightmares. Nobody is quite sure why, but a trip to slumberland can make our pearly whites surprisingly wont to fall out. Unfortunately, whilst losing teeth is confined to bad dreams for most of us, it’s a reality for many others: aging, bad dental hygiene, and sporting accidents are just some of the many causes of lost teeth. Worse still, it can be difficult and costly to get a quick replacement without adequate dental care.

Wanting to replace lost teeth as quickly as possible is not a sign of vanity: Everyone deserves to show off their natural smile without having to feel embarrassed or inadequate, but there are also important physiological reasons as to why replacing a lost tooth should be done sooner rather than later. If a gap is left unfilled for a long period of time, the teeth on either side of the gap can start to move inwards and gums can become damaged. Permanent dental implants can take days or even weeks to prepare, so temporary restoration teeth are used to fill the gap for up to a month.

Given the many difficulties associated with lost teeth, it’s always exciting to hear about dental experts adopting new technologies and techniques to improve the efficiency and quality of dental implants. A group of specialists at UofL have done just that, by testing a fully digital approach to computer-guided surgery, one which utilizes 3D scanning, CNC milling, and 3D printing to produce those crucial temporary restoration teeth. In an article published in the Journal of Prosthetic Dentistry, the researchers described their fully digital method, which they believe could someday be adopted by the dental community.

“This protocol skips a lot of steps and makes it more efficient,” said Bryan T. Harris, D.M.D., associate professor of prosthodontics at UofL and coauthor on the paper. “The patient benefits from reduced chair time, minimal surgical exposure, more efficient appointments and more predictable results.”

To test the efficiency of the 3D printing and 3D scanning protocol, the UofL team used its new method to replace two teeth for a woman at the UofL School of Dentistry’s patient clinic. The clinicians first 3D scanned the patient’s mouth to obtain all the detailed digital information required for the next steps. Traditionally, dentists would use impressions to create a physical mold of the patients teeth and gums, but 3D scanning has the advantages of being more accurate and less invasive.

Once the digital information had been obtained from the 3D scan of the patient’s mouth, the team used CAD software to design the temporary restoration teeth, which were manufactured with a CNC mill. 3D printing also had an important role to play: The digital 3D model of the mouth was used to create fully patient-specific 3D printed models and templates to help guide the surgeon during the procedure. The 3D printed surgical guide allowed the surgeon to place the implants without disrupting the patient’s gum flaps—an omission that had the patient all smiles.

“The software can provide a template to guide the surgeon in placing the implant, so you save a lot of time during the surgery,” said Wei-Shao Lin, D.D.S., associate professor of prosthodontics at UofL and coauthor on the study. “The dentists can plan everything ahead of time instead of making decisions on the spot.”

The use of digital technologies to create temporary replacement teeth is an incredibly important step in the betterment of dental healthcare, but what are the chances of permanent CNC milled or 3D printed teeth one day becoming a plausible option for patients? 3D printing giant Stratasys has already highlighted the potential within the industry, but one significant obstacle is cost: High quality 3D printers would be required to produce permanent dental implants, which would represent significant outlay for dental clinics. Dental professionals might also fear that the added mechanization of 3D printing technology might threaten the job security of dental technicians.

These obstacles, serious as they are, would surely be set aside if it could be demonstrated that 3D printing can improve the process of replacing missing teeth. We might be long in the tooth before dental experts come up with an economically viable way of doing so, but the possibility remains an exciting one.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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