Focus On: 3-D Printing

Sabiha S. Bunek, DDS


DENTAL ADVISOR’s Sabiha S. Bunek, DDS, speaks with Mr. Juan Montealegre of Apex Dental Milling about 3-D printing technologies.

Q: What benefits does 3-D printing offer the field of dentistry?

A: Three-dimentional printing, which has only recently taken off in the dental industry, is a form of additive manufacturing that has been around since the 1980s. Additive manufacturing joins materials together to create a 3-D object. Examples in dentistry are dental models, temporary crowns, and removable appliances, including denture bases. Three-dimensional printing usually works by putting down a material layer by layer to build up a 3-D object. Currently, there are 6 different types of 3-D printing for dentistry: multi-jetting, selective laser sintering (SLS), stereolithography (SLA), direct metal laser sintering (DMLS), digital light projection (DLP), and fused filament fabrication (FFF). SLA and DLP are the most versatile 3-D printing technologies in the industry due to the variety of materials that are utilized with the printers.

Q: How can a dental practice utilize 3-D printing?

A: There are 3 ways a dentist can work with 3-D printing:

1. Purchase a 3-D printer.

2. Use a dental lab that has a 3-D printer.

3. Ask your dental lab to partner with a 3-D printing service.

If you decide to buy a 3-D printer, you should be passionate and prepared to learn about this emerging technology. It can be rewarding and economical to bring a printer into your practice to create surgical guides, bite splints, models, temporary crowns, and dentures. Keep in mind that it takes more than having a 3-D printer to produce products. You need to think about the digital ecosystem and how to prepare your office, train your team, and modify schedules to complete the scheduled work.

Q: Can you explain the process from start to finish? What steps are involved?

A: As a clinician, one of the first things to consider is how the clinician will capture the 3-D data—will it be done through the use of an intraoral scanner or desktop scanner? Intraoral scanners allow you to capture a digital representation of the patient’s mouth chairside, while the desktop scanner can be used to scan an impression. You can use desktop and some intraoral scanners to capture models, saving on physical storage space and allowing for virtual digital storage.

Once you have a digital rendering of the patient’s mouth, the next thing to consider is what you want to create. If you want to make dental models, CAD editing software is needed to check your 3-D data and onfirm it is ready to print. Once labeled with patient data, model files need to be prepared by removing excess scan data, ensuring there are no holes in the surface and labeling models with patient names.

If you want to produce something other than dental models, dental design software is needed. This type of software takes a 3-D representation of a patient’s mouth and allows the user to digitally design an orthodontic appliance, denture, bite splint, or surgical guide. Learning design software or model editing software can be daunting, so as you transition to using a 3-D printer, consider using a design service while you learn the ins and outs of your printer and software.

The next step is setting up your printer. Most printers come with nesting software that helps you properly place the 3-D object you’ve created. Before the project is sent to the printer, it goes through a process that slices the object into hundreds or thousands of slices that represent the cross section and each layer of what’s going to be printed.

The final step in 3-D printing is post processing. This step finalizes the print and should be a consideration when selecting a printer. Some printers require use of a pressure washer to remove a water-soluble support material. Other printers require grinding off the support structure and/or placing the part in a light box for final curing.

Q: Summing up, are there best practices for integrating 3-D technology into your practice?

A: If you are unsure about investing in a 3-D printer right now, but still want to benefit from 3-D printing, you can always send the work to a dental laboratory that has a 3-D printer. Most intraoral scanners have options that let you send your data directly to a lab. Your laboratory team will use your data and do the design and editing of the data to make sure that you get exactly what you want.

If your dental lab does not offer printed models and you want to continue using them, send your data to a printing service that can forward your 3-D printed models to your lab. We see this as a popular option among orthodontic labs. We offer this service at Apex Dental Milling, and it has been a large growth area for the business.

No matter what your technical ability or knowledge of 3-D printing is, you can get involved in this exciting technology that is now sweeping the dental industry!

Mr. Montealegre is director of technical operations at Apex Dental Milling in Ann Arbor, Mich. He works collaboratively with DENTAL ADVISOR on training and educating the dental industry in digital workflow, CAD/CAM, 3-D printing, and materials. He can be reached at (866) 755-4236 or via email at

Dr. Bunek is CEO and Editor-in-Chief of DENTAL ADVISOR, an industry-leading consultative service and publication for dental professionals worldwide. She can be reached via email at

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