Dental

Dental additive manufacturing became the first segment to achieve the production of certain end-use parts, effectively fueling growth for all main traditional polymer additive manufacturing hardware and material stakeholders. Photopolymerization (and material jetting, which is a type of photopolymerization) companies like Stratasys, 3D Systems, EnvisionTEC, DWS and Prodways – embraced the dental AM segment first.

They were then followed by the leading metal laser PBF hardware providers EOS, 3D Systems, SLM Solutions, Sisma and Renishaw above all. More recently all the leading ceramic AM firms, such as Lithoz, 3D Ceram and XJet are getting involved more directly and seeing significant opportunities.

More recently the next generation of polymer AM companies also entered the arena targeting true digital mass production. Boston-based Formlabs entered the segment providing an accessible and low-cost solution, while SIlicon Valley-based Carbon also entered the market with new materials and the ability to provide very high productivity rates. Both solutions have dramatically increased AM penetration within the entire dental industry at all levels, including the dentist’s office. However, HP was the first company to achieve a million-part application in dentistry by using its technology indirectly, to produce millions of mass customized tools for dental aligners manufactured by Smile Direct. In fact, dental aligners – including those manufactured by market leader Invisalign – are now one of the hottest applications in this segment.

In general, polymer 3D printers and materials are used in dentistry on several levels: to directly produce models from intraoral scans, CT scans and MRI’s; to produce patterns and molds for end-use materials; to produce visual models, surgical guides and even temporaries – with some now envisioning the direct production of permanent prostheses using polymer-nanoceramic composite materials. Metal and ceramic 3D printers and materials are used as real alternatives to subtractive production methods, reducing material waste.

Historically, dental additive manufacturing technologies have been applied in dental laboratories for over two decades, and more recently they have begun to be adopted by dentists, orthodontists, and oral surgeons. The use of 3D printing in the laboratory and the dentist’s office has been steadily growing for the past several years. Now the dental opportunity has emerged as one of the most relevant for the AM industry as a whole, with literally hundreds of thousands of potential adopters all over the world.

The apparent paradox is that – as dental technologies become more and more established within the dental industry – AM’s visibility within the dental segment has been progressively decreasing, as adopters now increasingly see it as standard practice. In this month’s AM focus we are going to highlight the latest opportunities for AM in dentistry.

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