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Directly 3d Printing of Retainers and Clear Aligners

We have had a scanner and 3d printer for a few years now at our orthodontic practice in Birmingham. One of the great things about these two pieces of technology is that we have reduced the number of impressions of the teeth that we have to take. We can also use the technology for other things such as removing brackets virtually. This means that retainers can be ready before the brace is removed. We also use our scanner to save time getting information to laboratories that produce appliances, such as Invisalign clear aligners, Spark and Incognito braces.

The problem with many of these processes is that they require us to make a model of the teeth first. This means using more plastic which is difficult to recycle and has to be disposed of in a special way, as well as the cost of course. One of the recent advances that came out of the IDS show in Cologne last month was a company who are now saying that they can print out retainers and aligners direct. If this is the case it changes things dramatically.

At present we have the choice of either taking impressions and making the retainers, a process that we have got down to 20 minutes. Or the other alternative is to scan the teeth (like an invisalign iTero scan) and then set the virtual model of the teeth up and place on a platform for 3d printing. This takes about 10 to 15 minutes and then printing the model takes a further 20-30 minutes. We then still have to make the retainer which takes a further 10 minutes. So the high tech solution will take at least double the time that the low tech solution does.

With the new technology we would be able to directly print the retainers from a scan and also have the potential for us to create clear aligners in house here in Birmingham. This would dramatically reduce the cost of aligner therapy.

The new aligner materials becoming available are said to have shape memory. This means that if distorted at room temperature, when placed in a warmer environment the aligner or retainer returns to its ideal shape. This is something that we have been waiting for for the last few years and we are hoping to be among the first to trial this in our orthodontic practice.

Watch this space.