Researchers at the Queen Mary University of London Institute of Dentistry have used a 3-D printer to create replica teeth that could help improve dental training.
“Undergraduate dental students struggle with practicing on artificial teeth, as they don’t behave in the same way as real teeth,” said PhD student Alexander Jon Cresswell-Boyes, MSc.
“So, we wanted to see whether we could 3-D print an artificial tooth that looked and felt like a real tooth to give undergraduate students a more realistic environment to practice on and ensure patients receive the best treatment,” Cresswell-Boyes said.
Approximately 60% of dental procedures carried out by undergraduates fail due to the difficulties in practicing on artificial teeth, the researchers report. Previous studies have examined student dissatisfaction with artificial teeth, but no study has explored creating a 3-D printable material with the same mechanical properties as natural teeth.
The researchers gathered high-resolution scans of real extracted teeth using x-rays and fed the data into a 3-D printer to deposit material in specific locations layer by layer, creating an accurate replica of a tooth. They then mapped the hardness of both real and artificial teeth to compare them.
While the current 3-D printing technology showed limits and did not faithfully replicate natural teeth, the models proved it was possible to use a cost-effective 3-D printer and produce physical 3-D models from x-ray data, the researchers said.
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