Discover Your 3D Creativity

My first exposure to 3D printing took place well into my career as a young dental technician. I remember watching the large format printers from 3D Systems and Objet in a completely trance-like state, completely mesmerized by their ability to produce a physical object out of thin air.

The laboratory that I worked for at the time (and would later own) specialized in dentures and partials. More specifically, we specialized in Valplast Flexible Partials and man did we make a TON of them! For those of you who are not familiar with dental lab technology, traditionally dentures and partials are first modeled in wax and covered in a flask with a special type of plaster. The wax is melted and removed from the flask and then plastic or metal is injected or cast into the mold to form the restoration. These steps are all done by hand and technicians must display a high level of skill and artistry to abide by the biological concepts of the human mouth.

The first practical application of 3D printing in dental labs was to replace handmade wax-ups with parts printed in resin. It allowed dental technicians to fabricate copings, frameworks and full contour crowns for metal casting or pressable ceramics. A further application of dental 3D printing happened when the adoption of intraoral scanners grew amongst dentists. This allowed dentists to scan the mouth and print a model instead of using physical impression materials.

As I mentioned before my background in dental technology is with dentures and partials. As much as 3D printing intrigued me, there wasn’t much use for it in my area of specialty other than for printing and casting metal frameworks for partial dentures. The first use I really had for 3D printing was when I was asked to test and validate the use of intraoral scanners with Valplast flexible dentures. We were printing models from the digital scans of our patients, and also testing various materials that were suitable for flexible baseplates upon which we could set denture teeth in wax and then process the dentures using traditional injection molding equipment.

Fast forward to today where we can not only 3D print denture baseplates but also entire prototypes of full and partial dentures. The prototypes can be used for trial evaluation and processing with traditional methods, allowing labs to combine both digital and handmade techniques to save time and improve accuracy. A revolutionary new technique that we developed (at Arfona) allows us to 3D print actual Valplast resin – further reducing the need for manual labor and letting technicians focus on case planning, design and increased case volume.

In short, 3D printing can be used for an incredibly wide variety of applications across many different industries. My experience and training as a dental technician allowed me to discover creativity that was not possible without 3D printing. How will you start your next invention?

Justin Marks