Imagine if having major dental work done did not require patients to submit for molds then wait days or weeks for personalized appliances or prosthetic to arrive. Instead, the item could be made in the dentist’s office in a matter of minutes with 3D printing, taking the time from diagnosis to treatment from days to less than an hour. That time is nearly at hand.
A start up company called Carbon 3D, Inc. has developed a new 3D printing technology that uses light and oxygen to print solid objects at speeds 25 to 100 times faster than current 3D printing technology. The device uses a liquid media from which objects arise, as opposed to the traditional method of constructing 3D objects in a layer-by-layer fashion. This allows users to create much more complicated items not achievable with traditional 3D printers.
The technology, called Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP) uses oxygen and light to fuse objects in the liquid media in a process known as tunable photochemistry. Beams of light are projected through a permeable window into the liquid resin. The light and oxygen work together to solidify the resin and create the product.
Carbon 3D is working in conjunction with UNC-Chapel Hill to investigate ways to advance and commercialize the device, as well as find ways to use a wider array of materials with it. The researchers believe that a wide array of materials may be suitable for CLIP, including elastomers, silicons, nylon-like materials, ceramics, and biodegradable materials.
CLIP may also allow the development of new polymers with unique geometries not achievable using other techniques. This, in turn, may allow for the development of new medical devices and prosthetics, like cardiac stints, dental implants, and even complicated prosthetic devices fully integrated with the user’s original biology.
For dentistry, this could lead to the ability to 3D print replacement teeth, retainers, and other dental devices in mere minutes while a patient waits. This could be invaluable in situations where a patient faces pain or embarrassment, such as a damaged tooth or a situation where an extraction may be appropriate. This technology would allow that patient to walk in, receive a diagnosis and treatment, and walk out all in one visit.
The exact dates of commercial availability have not yet been announced, but given the rising popularity of 3D printing technologies, particularly in the medical and dental fields, it is likely this or a similar device will find its way into dental offices before the end of the decade.