Only a limited number of articles have been published regarding application of rapid prototyping in dentistry. The majority of them are on surgical techniques, Invisalign Tm clear braces, and the use of CAD/CAM in restorative dentistry. A brief overview is provided in the following discussion.
Rapid prototyping is a technique for the production of solid objects from computer models. By definition, the utilization of lab-based CAD/CAM technology for metal-free ceramic restorations falls into this category.
Researchers in Iran explain how medical imaging coupled with computer-aided design could be used to create a perfect-fit blueprint for prosthetic dentistry, whether to replace diseased or broken teeth and jaw bone. The blueprint can then be fed into a so-called 3D printer to build up an exact replica using a biocompatible composite material. Such technology has been used in medical prosthetics before, but this is an early step into prosthetic dentistry using rapid prototyping.
By contrast, rapid prototyping uses a 3D image held in a computer to control a laser that then "cures" powdered or liquid polymer. Almost any solid, porous, or complicated shape can be produced by this 3D-printing technology.
The Iranian team has now demonstrated how rapid prototyping can be used to fabricate dental objects such as implants and crowns quickly and easily even where features such as overhangs, sharp corners and undercuts are required. The team points out that the most appropriate medical imaging technology, CBCT (cone-beam computed tomography), which is lower cost and exposes the patient to a lower dose of ionizing radiation is best suited to the generation of the computer design for creating such dental objects ready for printing.
What if, instead of waiting days or weeks for a cast to be produced and prosthetic dental implants, false teeth and replacement crowns to be made, your dentist could quickly scan your jaw and "print" your new teeth using a rapid prototyping machine known as a 3D printer?