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Inside Dental Technology
June 2024
Volume 15, Issue 5

Advancing Dental Care With Additive Manufacturing

How 3D printing is driving a digital transformation in the industry

Ankush Venkatesh, MS

Additive manufacturing, more commonly known as 3D printing, continues to transform how dental practitioners approach patient care. In 2022, dental printing accounted for almost one-third of the overall additive manufacturing market, and analysts estimate the global dental 3D printing market will be worth $9.7 billion by 2031.1

When compared with other industries, dentistry has been quick to integrate additive manufacturing into its production strategy. This is unsurprising given the industry's history of embracing digital methodologies. Although much of this adoption has occurred downstream, dental offices have continually adopted tools such as intraoral scanning and computer-aided design (CAD), utilizing them to enhance the efficiency and quality of care. 3D printing is a natural extension of these workflows. Using additive manufacturing, dental practitioners can produce molds, models, and implants, streamlining the manufacturing process from the initial scan to the end product.

A Natural Fit

Additive manufacturing works best in use cases that tap into its capacity for mass customization. Applications such as nightguards, dentures, and sports guards, which are tailored to a patient's anatomy, are prime examples. Dental offices can generate tens to even hundreds of these cases per month, either outsourcing their production to a dental laboratory or fabricating them in-house. Dental manufacturing is unique in its ability to demand a high velocity of patient-specific parts-making it an excellent fit for additive manufacturing. As a result, a growing number of practitioners and laboratories are leaning on this technology to produce diagnostic models, dental appliances, and prostheses.

Distributed Manufacturing Toward the Edge

The dental industry provides a near-perfect proving ground for distributed manufacturing: producing parts closer to the point of use; or in this case, point of care. Often dubbed "chairside printing," 3D printing has and will continue to diffuse upstream to the dental clinic.

According to research by the American Dental Association (ADA), 17% of dentists have already incorporated 3D printing into their dental practice.2 Another 21% say they are considering purchasing or renting a 3D printer in the future-and these figures do not account for the many dental laboratories that have been the primary adopters of the technology because of the scale at which they must operate. Of the dentists who reported using 3D printers, 68% reported improved efficiency as a key benefit, and 44% said 3D printing helped them reduce costs. Other cited advantages included reducing chair time (20%) and achieving better outcomes (20%).2

The Evolution of Additive Manufacturing

The progress toward broad adoption of additive manufacturing has not just been facilitated by the dental industry's embrace of the technologies. Advancements in hardware and material capabilities have increased the precision, speed, and range of applications available to dental practitioners as well.

In addition, the financial feasibility of industrial 3D printing has steadily improved since early use cases in the 1990s. 3D printing hardware has become progressively ubiquitous; affordable machines and faster print times have allowed laboratories and dental offices to reduce the cost and time associated with production. One example of this is the recent transition from point-based technologies (such as stereolithography or SLA) to layer-based technologies (such as digital light processing or DLP). Although both are examples of photopolymer processes, the ability to UV-cure entire layers of material at once provides a significant and obvious speed advantage over a process that traces out individual shapes with a point-laser. As DLP machines have become more affordable over time, more laboratories and dental offices have been able to invest in the technology. This has enabled them to cut lead times and, by extension, accelerate growth.

Another, more recent, example of 3D printing advancement in an industrial context is the introduction of material jetting, or inkjet-based additive manufacturing. What the move to layer-based printing accomplishes for speed, jetting accomplishes for complexity. Due to the capabilities of modern printheads, multi-material printing now offers the promise of controlling part properties at the level of the voxel, or 3D pixel. Design freedoms at the voxel level are not limited to mechanical properties, but also allow for esthetic considerations, which is a key lever for restorative dentistry.

The Transition to Direct Print

Initially, the industry primarily relied on 3D printing for producing dental models, which are used as an intermediate step in the fabrication process. However, as researchers unlock new ways to maximize material capabilities and minimize labor, 3D printing is becoming a viable solution for producing a wider range of end-use appliances.

With the time and tools to test material properties and experiment with design freedoms, laboratory technicians have increasingly been able to turn out parts and products that meet or exceed the standards set by conventional fabrication methods. Machines can now print faster and produce a greater variety of parts, all while the need for complex post-production treatments is decreasing.

Traditionally, the dental manufacturing industry has been artisan-based and manned by skilled technicians. Digital workflows now offer the opportunity to standardize and automate production, reducing the reliance on manual labor and, in doing so, cutting costs. That said, this also places new pressure on the technology to ensure that it can consistently replicate the quality of handcrafted work-something the industry must continue to pay close attention to.

A Technology-Enabled Future

The dental industry's move toward the widespread use of direct print applications will have implications beyond its own sector. Mass customization is relevant to many verticals, including consumer goods and the wider healthcare field. In the future, we could see biometric data-such as is gathered through intraoral scans-used to produce custom products like sports accessories and protective gear.

As a pioneer in additive adoption, the dental industry can help the broader manufacturing ecosystem adapt. Likewise, as other verticals catch up, their findings will enable dental practitioners to derive even more value from the technology. Conferences and events that foster cross-sector collaboration for those working with additive technologies-such as RAPID + TCT-provide a vital platform for this growth.

The dental industry has already made considerable progress toward digital transformation, and there is still much more to uncover through research and development. This ongoing evolution promises to not only drive technological advancement but significantly enhance patient outcomes, ushering in a new era of technology-enabled dental care.

About the Author

Ankush Venkatesh, MS
Intrapreneur, Additive Manufacturing
Glidewell Dental Laboratories


1. SmarTech Analysis. Dental 3D printing markets & forecast report from SmarTech Analysis confirms dental industry's transition to 3D printing, growth to $4.0B in 2022. PR Newswire website. Published May 22, 2023. Accessed May 16, 2024.

2. Revilla-León M, Frazier K, da Costa J, et al. Prevalence and applications of 3-dimensional printers in dental practice: an American Dental Association Clinical Evaluators Panel survey. J Am Dent Assoc. 2023;154(4):355-356.e2.

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