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How 3D printing is revolutionising dentistry

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3D printed dentures can be made and ready within one dental visit thanks to a new formulation developed by Desktop Health. Health Tech World hears from the company’s CEO about the cutting edge technology and the potential of 3D printing in dentistry


According to the oral healthcare portal, Dentaly, almost three-quarters of Brits are without their full set of natural teeth and six per cent have none left at all. In 2012, 130,000 dental implants were placed in the UK and that number is thought to have now doubled over the past decade.

The need for dental prosthetics is on the rise, with the global dentures market estimated to reach $3.8 billion by 2027.  The European dentures market has grown from $829 million in 2018 to $878 million in 2019, a rise attributed to the increase in the prevalence of periodontal diseases, tooth loss or decay and the growing geriatric population.

As demand for dentures grows, experts in the industry have been waiting for advancements in technology that will make dentures more personalised, precise and cost-efficient.

The traditional model for fitting a denture can take months. The dentist will first take an impression of the patient’s tooth which is then shipped to a lab to be turned into what is called a cement.

With this impression of the upper and lower set of teeth, technicians design the denture and ship it back to the dentist. During the fitting process, the dentist will make the finishing touches by filing down the denture until they’ve created the perfect crown.

With 3D printing, a patient’s mouth is scanned to create a file that is sent to a design service. Within 20 minutes to 24 hours, a JOB file will be sent directly to a printer which will produce an exact replica of the tooth that was scanned just a few hours ago.

Desktop Heath, a California-based provider of 3D printing solutions, has been developing a new resin for use in 3D fabrication of high-quality dental prosthetics. The material is called Flexcera and allows dental providers to print up to eight customised dentures in less than two hours.

Desktop Health has been developing the resin for three years and have tested over 200 different formulations. The company’s aim was to create a product that addressed the limitations of current 3D printed dentures, including brittleness and poor aesthetics.

“The introduction of Flexcera marks the inception of a remarkable new era in dentistry. [It] combines advanced Flexcera science with 3D printing technology to deliver superior strength, aesthetics, and function for patients,” Michael Jafar, President & CEO of Desktop Health, says.

Flexcera resin was developed with the strength of ceramic coupled with long-chain chemistry to ensure optimal denture properties. Desktop Health says the new formulation is three times more resistant to fracture than select competitive resins and two times more resistant than a leading competitive formulation.

“Flexera is a newly formulated resin that is made with our most recent chemistry, a long chain, double cross-link chemistry, which creates one of the strongest materials in photopolymers,” Jafar says.

“The holy grail in dentistry is ceramics; it is the hardest material in the history of dentistry. And because of this long chain chemistry, [Flexcera] is almost as strong as ceramic, but provides amazing flexibility, so when you bite and you chew and you grind, the teeth are not breaking or cracking.

“We’ve had tremendous success with this product because unlike its competitive set, it’s not a brittle product, which means if you bite, it won’t crack and it’s not a product that will stain because of its chemistry.”

One current issue with 3D printed dentures is the porous nature of the prints. If a patient drinks wine or coffee, for example, the denture is prone to absorb the liquid. The new chemistry developed by Desktop Health shows minimal to no absorption of water giving the dentures more longevity.

3D printing is very much at the cutting edge of technology in dentistry. According to Desktop Health, Only 15-20% of dentistry practices own a scanner, however it is one of the fastest-growing segments in the dentistry sector, Jafar said.

Jafar adds: “I don’t see how half of the customer base doesn’t offer personalised, customised, on-demand biofabrication or 3D printing. I see tremendous growth there over the next three to five years as machines have become faster and more accurate, and material science has become stronger.

Jafar believes 3D printing is the “obvious solution” to current issues with denture design and production. Over the coming years, he thinks patient demand for a quicker and more efficient process will grow exponentially.

“It’s the only obvious solution for a couple of reasons,” Jafar continued. “One, the dentist has the capability of minimising the back and forth with patients and they are not worried about backlogs and chair time. Two, the cost to produce a traditional crown is nearly seven times higher than if you were to print it.”

Desktop Health received FDA approval for Flexcera in May this year and CE Mark Certification earlier this month. Flexcera resin is expected to launch commercially in Europe in late summer 2021 and in the U.S. and Canada by the end of June.

Desktop Health says it will be expanding into several key markets and diversifying its revenue stream beyond dentistry over the next 12 to 24 months.

“For Desktop Health I think the excitement continues,” Jafar adds. “Our strategic focus as an organisation is to develop alternative synthetic materials and continue to advance our FDA position and their understanding and appreciation for additive manufacturing and biofabrication.

“Lastly, we’re trying to enhance this patient, physician ecosystem that is frankly not efficient and not personalised.”

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