It’s possible that in the next twenty years we may consider 3D printing to be one of the most important medical advancements in our civilization. From creating heart valve replacements, affordable prosthetics, and even skin grafts, the technological possibilities continue to grow, progressing into every field including dentistry.
Dentures can be uncomfortable. During the initial phase, gums may feel sore or irritated, salivation increases, and coughing, yawning, or sneezing may dislodge them. This discomfort was a another problem 3D printing went up against, and, according to a recent trial, it came out on top.
Conducted at McGill University in Montreal, the purpose of the trial was to test the viability of 3D printed dentures against traditionally produced dentures. Since the selective laser sintering (SLS), which involves melting metal powder onto a mold, is less prone to error, the hypothesis was this would translate into a better product.
To test this hypothesis, patients were given one traditional set of dentures and one 3D printed set, alternating after 30 days. Their satisfaction was then measured 1, 2, and 4 weeks apart according to several criteria:
- General satisfaction
- Chewing efficiency
- Ability to speak
- Oral condition
When the trial had ended, the majority of participants prefered the 3D printed dentures.
The traditional method for creating dentures involves dental putty, which acts as a blueprint. The road from dental office to the processing lab can be a long one, and any number of mistakes, such as improper sealing between denture and cast, can result in an improper fit.
Besides the terrific accuracy of the 3D printing method, processing time can be significantly cut. It’s much faster to take a digital impression than manual impressions. And digital impressions can be sent much more quickly to the lab for fabrication.
A Promising Start, but Printed Dentures Not Ready Yet
Just as with 3D printed heart valves, which have yet to be used on human patients and won’t be for a long time, 3D printing in dentistry is still young, and does not yet have the research needed to prove its effectiveness.
While the trial at McGill University is certainly promising, it has two major flaws: patient size, and time period. The trial had only nine participants wearing each denture for just thirty days. Because dentures are designed to be worn for years, and often decades, this doesn’t seem to be enough time to properly consider the differences. It also says nothing about wear, particularly odor, staining, bit force, and bone loss.
Nonetheless, 3D printing remains an incredibly exciting technology. One we’ll keep our eye on. In the meantime, offering drug-free, cutting edge treatments like laser dentistry are our way of staying ahead of the curve.