The future looks bright for 3D-printed dentures

2017 04 24 15 39 42 105 3d Printing Ball 400

Less expensive but good-enough 3D-printed dentures will be a reality in the near future, according to a presentation at the 3DHeals 3D printing conference in San Francisco on April 20.

Dr. Valerie Cooper at the 3DHeals conference.Dr. Valerie Cooper at the 3DHeals conference.

Rapidly advancing digital and printing technologies are making the production of dentures quicker and simpler, prosthodontist Valerie Cooper, DDS, told attendees at a presentation on digital dentures.

"There's been this rapid change in how we make dentures in terms of digital technology," said Dr. Cooper, who has a prosthodontics and general dentistry practice in Dayton, OH.

Enthusiastic about dentures and using 3D printing and digital technology to make them, Dr. Cooper is also known as the "Denture Queen" and posts about digital dentures as "denturequeen" on Instagram.

Lower costs, fewer visits

Right now, it costs about $5,000 for dentures, but the use of digital and 3D printing technology is bringing that down substantially, according to Dr. Cooper.

"Theoretically, you could do a denture for $30," she said. "The reason why this is important is that 99% of the world can't afford a digital-milled denture."

Dentists contact her from Pakistan, Brazil, and other countries, asking her to help make cheaper dentures a reality for their patients.

"We have an inexpensive method to make a denture digitally that can help service a lot of patients who can't afford the cost of a digital denture made with milling technology," she said.

What allows this process to be so much less expensive? Reduced labor time, fewer appointments, greater precision, improved ability to preview designs, and a more forgiving process account for some of the differences.

“There's been this rapid change in how we make dentures in terms of digital technology.”
— Valerie Cooper, DDS

The conventional denture-making process can take six to eight hours of a technician's time, whereas Dr. Cooper said she spends around 30 to 60 minutes on a digital denture case now and can print four dentures in three hours.

Using an intraoral scanner to produce dentures digitally can reduce the number of appointments for producing dentures from around five to six down to two to three.

In some cases, Dr. Cooper will make dentures without first making an impression, such as for patients with a severe gag reflex or those who have very flabby tissue in which the process can be painful.

"All 3D printing leads back to accelerated workflows, cost savings, time savings, overall efficiency," she said.

A milled try-in denture costs about $120 to make, compared with a 3D-printed try-in for about $2, according to Dr. Cooper.

"My specific goal and project is to make a lower-cost denture," she said.

Not the most beautiful

Permanent, digitally made 3D-printed dentures are not here yet but could be within a year.

"The only printed dentures I'm making are immediate and interim and that's just because of the regulations," Dr. Cooper explained. "Also, the materials themselves are not quite as strong as what we can get with other techniques yet."

She provides dentures annually for patients who can't afford them during National Prosthodontic Awareness Week. This year, she used 3D printing technology to make dentures for patients and has invited them to come back next year when she hopes to be able to provide them with permanent 3D-printed dentures.

"Are the teeth the most beautiful denture teeth that exist? No. Do they work for someone? Yes," Dr. Cooper said.

She explained that she has found that patients aren't as particular about the look of dentures as dentists are and will accept dentures that are all one color. She had been ordering conventional denture teeth but switched to monolithic teeth.

"No one complained," she said. "They never said that it's all one color. Dentists can see that. Patients cannot see that. I am confident that a denture that doesn't look great can still be accepted by the vast majority of denture wearers."

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