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BUDAPEST, Hungary: The use of additive manufacturing in dentistry is widespread in dental markets; however, there is a lack of information about the practical aspects of how dental specialists are using 3D printing and the amount they are spending on it. A study led by researchers at Semmelweis University in Budapest sought to establish the facts about 3D printing in dentistry in order to characterise its use.
According to the study, additive manufacturing experienced a price revolution around 2010. The technology had already existed for nearly two decades, but lower prices brought 3D printing within reach of consumers and professional groups, and dentists and dental laboratories were some of the core investors in early compact 3D-printing solutions.
More than a decade later, 3D printing is being used in every field of dentistry, including in prosthodontics, orthodontics, implantology and maxillofacial surgery. The authors stated, however, that “little knowledge has been collected from the specialists in this technology’s physical usage”. The researchers therefore investigated key aspects of use, such as the types of 3D printers and software being used, the number of units on hand in dental settings, and the accessibility and cost of the technology for dental professionals.
They found that respondents mostly used their 3D printers to create models for designing prosthetics. The second most common use was in the area of orthodontics, followed by the creation of sectional cast models, surgical guides, castable waxes and splints. At the lower end of the usage spectrum, dental professionals used the technology to create restorations such as dental bridges, crowns, inlays and permanent restorations.
The majority (63.3%) of respondents said that 3D-printed models were more accurate than those made using cast model techniques. Most respondents (72.5%) said they used their printing device at least every two days, and 92.5% used it at least once per week. More than one-quarter (25.8%) of respondents used more than 20 l of additive printing material every year, and 55.0% said that they had spent US$5,000 (€4,500) or less on their printing device.
The most common 3D printers owned by the respondents were those made by Formlabs, NextDent and Asiga, and the top three criteria that respondents looked for when choosing a 3D printer were accuracy, price and recommendations. When it came to satisfaction with the potential of their 3D printer, respondents were most satisfied with devices made by Asiga and NextDent. On the topic of price and material, devices made by Anycubic scored the highest. When it came to speed, users of NextDent devices were the most satisfied. Only three respondents said that they were dissatisfied with their device.
One of the surprise findings of the research was that only 51.7% of respondents had received training on how to use their 3D printer from the device manufacturer
For CAD processes, the most commonly used software was made by exocad, followed by those made by Meshmixer and 3Shape. The respondents used intra-oral scanners almost as often as they used their 3D-printing devices, and the two technologies were often used together. Among the intra-oral scanners used by the sample group, those made by 3Shape were the most preferred, followed by those made by Medit, Dentsply Sirona, Align Technology and Planmeca.
One of the surprise findings of the research was that only 51.7% of respondents had received training on how to use their 3D printer from the device manufacturer, and it was highlighted that most respondents had not been able to familiarise themselves with 3D printing during their dental education. Regarding becoming adept with the technology, the researchers noted that social media was a significant source of information, problem-solving and networking opportunities related to 3D printing in dentistry. They wrote: “Social media is essential. It is currently having a significant impact on the healthcare industry, and it is also an excellent tool for helping specialists exchange experience and knowledge. In addition, if one needs help, it seems to be a faster method for receiving it than the official support system.”
It was found that newly graduated dentists and younger dentists were faced with fewer technical obstacles when adopting the technology. The researchers wrote: “They learn the critical steps of digital dental treatment during their education, including digital impression taking, intra-oral scanning, and additive manufacturing. This new generation of dentists has enormous potential to develop digital dentistry. The working process and patient experience can be created together, as the patient can follow the whole treatment via digital dental tools.”
The study identified environmental factors related to additive manufacturing as a concern within the dental community. They said that there was a lack of studies that investigated the full ecological footprint of digital dental workflows, including the complete life cycle of additive manufacturing processes, in comparison with more traditional dental technologies.
The findings were based on an online survey that was conducted between 1 January 2020 and 1 January 2021 and completed by 120 dental professionals from 20 countries. This sample was comprised of 68 dentists, 29 dental technicians and 23 CAD/CAM specialists who were mainly based in Hungary (23.7%), the US (18.4%) and the UK (7.9%). Most of the respondents owned one 3D printer and the study participants, on average, had more than three and a half years of experience using the technology.
The study, titled “User experience and sustainability of 3D printing in dentistry”, was published online on 9 February 2022 in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
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