Is the Dental Industry in for a Rude Awakening Because of 3D Printing?

A New Jersey digital design student, Amos Dudley, has managed to 3D print a set of clear, orthodontic aligners – much like the ones currently selling for thousands of dollars – for under $60. It turned out that Dudley had worn regular braces as a kid, but didn’t maintain them.

3D Printing to the Rescue

While Dudley was not able to afford conventional orthodontic care, this didn’t stop him from seeking an alternative to help straighten his smile – in the form of 3D printing. He stated on his blog, “What is to stop someone, who has access to a 3D printer, from making their own orthodontic aligners? Turns out, not much!” After researching the correct orthodontic process, Dudley took a mold of his teeth and filled it with liquid PermaStone to set it. The cast was scanned and software was used to model the progression of his teeth towards his goal, but the teeth had to be separated into different objects and routes planned for them so that they wouldn’t intersect with each other.

12 Models Created

The student printed 12 models, each of which would help straighten his teeth over a period of 16 weeks. He then created plastic aligners over the top of them with a vacuum form machine and dental plastic that he purchased on eBay. The aligners themselves couldn’t be printed, because they would not only be uncomfortable; the plastic is porous, which could cause bacteria to grow in the mouth. Dudley explained, “These have to sit in the mouth without breaking down or releasing toxic chemicals, so the quality of the plastic is important.”

First DIY Aligner Attempt

Dudley said, “As far as I know, I’m the first person to have tried DIY-ing plastic aligners. They’re much more comfortable than braces, and fit my teeth quite well. I was pleased to find, when I put the first one on, that it only seemed to put any noticeable pressure on the teeth that I planned to move – a success! Most importantly, I feel like I can freely smile again.” Although the student thinks his experiment has been successful, he is not recommending that anyone else try it.

Concern over Self-Treatment

Orthodontist Brent Larson, voiced concern regarding the self-treatment, “I’m impressed with the way [he] was able to use the scanning and printing technology that he had available to engineer and produce his own aligners but a little frightened that he would actually use them to treat himself without a professional assessment of the health and function of the teeth. In fact, when looking at the images of the DIYer’s teeth, there are specific areas of tooth wear visible that indicate unbalanced function and possible night time grinding. This isn’t like home remodeling, where if you get into trouble you can always call in a professional later. Damage could result in loss of the supporting tooth root, gum recession, or, in the worst case, loss of teeth.”

This has highlighted the fact that people are frustrated with high prices of orthodontic care, and it is hoped that the results of this experiment will put pressure on the dental industry to come up with more affordable alternatives to give patients the smiles that they deserve.