Will We Soon Print Dental Implants?

Apr 29, 2014, by Dr. Becky Coats
Dental implants are a fantastic technology that is getting even more remarkable all the time. Experiments with 3D printing show that they may soon become a very different sort of technology.

Dental Implant Surgical Guides on Demand

The T32 Dental Centre in Singapore announced that it is now using 3D printing  to create surgical guides for dental implants.

Surgical guides are often used to help ensure the accuracy of dental implant placement. They fit over your existing teeth, or over the gums for people without teeth. They have guide holes designed to guide the implant into the exact placement and angle in the treatment plan. They are designed using x-rays, CT scans, and other types of images to ensure the proper placement, and they can be lined up on the x-ray to ensure they are exactly where they are supposed to be.

Normally, the images are taken in the dentist’s office, then sent to a lab where the guide is manufactured. Using 3D printing allows the production of a surgical guide in the dentist’s office, without the need for additional steps that can take time and may introduce error.

The 3D printing also allows the dentist to produce replicas of the patient’s jawbone to help the patient understand the treatment plan even better.

Printing Implants?

Does this mean that we’ll soon be printing the dental implants themselves? It’s possible, but it may be a long way off still. Although 3D printing has had some great successes printing structural materials for housing, it doesn’t yet have the strength required for something like dental implants.

An alternative technology that may be closer is using the CAD/CAM machines that manufacture dental crowns and other restorations to make dental implants. Some practices are using ceramic dental implants for people with metal allergies or who want to avoid metal implants. So far they seem to have a comparable success rate to titanium implants. With slight modifications, these systems could therefore likely make dental implants, which would allow us to create dental implants with a custom size, shape, or angle to fit the exact configuration of bone in your jaw.

This is an exciting time to be a dentist. We can’t wait to see what new technologies become available so we can share them with our patients.