This was originally posted to Medium on September 12, 2013
I was in the chair at the dentist getting fit for my Invisalign dental aligners when a thought popped into my mind: Are we approaching the point where I will be able to have impressions taken and have the actual Invisalign to take home on the same day?
With the rise of personal 3D printing, I do not think my vision is too far off. When I asked my dentist (who also
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happens to be my uncle) about this, he confirmed that this should happen within the next five years, though he personally does not know anyone who has started to work on it.
Currently, the process to get Invisalign is quite arduous. First, the patient has to go to his dentist/orthodontist, who will decide if you are a candidate for Invisalign or some other orthodontic appliance. They then take x-rays, photos, and impressions of your teeth. Then, the impressions are used by the dentist in his/her office to create models
that are mailed to Invisalign. A hard copy (old fashioned) of your x-rays are also sent with the models. Most x-rays are now digital, as are the photos, so they’re submitted electronically with a prescription to Invisalign for treatment. All materials are evaluated -mostly by dental teams in Costa Rica to reduce costs- and then a treatment plan is created. This plan is placed on the dentist’s online account. The dentist logs into their account and reviews Invisalign’s recommendations (this includes
video and further explanation as to how the treatment will proceed and how the teeth will move). So far, the only physical thing created is the models by the orthodontist.
The doctor reviews this and then approves it or recommends changes. The dentist can also call the company to speak to the dental team about the treatment plan. Once the final plan is set on their website, the orthodontist approves it. This data is then transmitted to the production facility in Mexico where the Invisalign trays are created and (finally) sent to the doctor. The trays are then inserted by the dentist to confirm the “fit”. To allow for tooth movement, some appliances often require attachments or filing of the teeth which, again, must be done by the dentist. This is done at various phases of the treatment, depending on each individual’s tooth misalignment and tooth anatomy. This whol process takes about a month.
Clearly, there is much room for improvement in the the way these trays are created. With
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a 3D printer at an orthodontists office, the tray creation could be performed immediately after the orthodontist
logs everything into the system. This would cut down the process from a month (at least) to no longer than a week, allowing orthodontists to treat more patients and therefore generate more revenue.
I believe this is just the beginning of the impact that 3D printing can make on the dental industry.