Invisalign and 3D Printing

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 happens to be my uncle) about this, he confirmed that this should happen within the next 5 years, although he personally does not know anyone who has started to work on it.

Currently, the process to get Invisalign is quite arduous. The patient first has to go to his dentist/orthodontist. The dentist will decide if you are a candidate for Invisalign or some other orthodontic appliance. The dentist takes xrays, photos and impressions. The impressions are used by the dentist in his/her office to create models that are mailed to Invisalign. A hard copy (old fashion) of your xrays are also sent with the models. Most xrays are now digital as are the photos so that is all submitted electronically with a prescription to Invisalign for treatment. They evaluate everything, mostly by dental teams in Costa Rica to reduce costs, and create a treatment plan. This is placed on the dentists online account. The dentist logs into their account and reviews Invisaligns recommendations. This includes video and further explanation of 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 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 transmitted to the production facility which is in Mexico where the Invisalign trays are created and finally sent to the doctor. The trays are then initially inserted by the dentist to confirm the “fit”. Some appliances also often require attachments, or filing of the teeth for the tooth movement which again must be done by the dentist. This is done at different phases of the treatment depending on each individuals tooth misalignment and tooth anatomy. This whole process takes about a month.

Clearly, there is much room for improvement in the the way these trays are created. With 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 at least a month to no longer than a week. This would allow orthodontists to take more patients for these treatments and therefore more revenue. I believe this is just the beginning of the impact that 3D printing can have on the dental industry.

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