Pacific Coast Society of Orthodontists Bulletin Spring 2021 - 57

The Wired Orthodontist

Practice Management

3D Printing in the Orthodontic Office:
What You Need to Know
Note: Please be aware that the PCSO Bulletin does
not endorse or promote any brands or products.

Dr. Jeffrey A. Nichelini
American Canyon, CA
PCSO Bulletin Section Editor

Three-dimensional (3D) printing is revolutionizing
the practice of dentistry and orthodontics. If you
are thinking about joining the revolution, understanding all the variables can be overwhelming.
Outlined below are a few considerations to help
you understand the basics.
What you can 3D print:
Orthodontists mostly use 3D printers for generating dental models that can be used in the
fabrication of clear aligners or retainers. Other
common orthodontic uses include the fabrication
of indirect bonding trays, night guards, splints,
surgical splints, and study models.
Cost of the machine:
Entry-level machines start in the mid $3000's
and increase to more than $20,000 for commercial-scale printing.
Cost of printing individual models:
Resin is usually sold by the liter, but the price for
individual arches ranges from $1.50 to $4 each.
This cost is determined not only by the price of
the resin used but also by the size of the model
being printed and the amount of waste associated with the printing process.
Other costs:
Most models require a washing and curing phase
after the printing is complete. The equipment for
this will probably be less than $1000. Staff time to
digitally prepare models for printing and then to
process them when printing is complete should
be considered. Clinicians intending to provide
clear aligner treatment with aligners developed
in-house should also expect to pay a fee for the
software required to generate the series of STL
files required for printing.
Speed of printing:
Speed is dependent not only on the capabilities
of individual machines but also on parameters

Spring 2021    PCSO Bulletin	

such as the resolution settings for each batch, the
type of resin used, the number of arches being
printed simultaneously, and the orientation of
the arches on the build platform. Some manufacturers report build times of less than 20 minutes
per batch, but this is under conditions optimized
for speed.
Before printing, expect a few minutes of computer time to prepare digital models for printing. After printing is complete, expect a 10- to 15-minute
wash phase and up to a 30-minute curing cycle
before a 3D-printed model can be used for its
intended purpose.
Volume of printing:
The size of the build platform as well as the size
of the arches being printed will determine the
number of arches that can be printed in a single
batch. Printing vertically can allow for more
arches to be printed in a single batch as compared to printing horizontally, but the batch print
time will be extended. Entry-level machines can
print about six models per batch horizontally and
12 models per batch vertically.
Resolution of printing:
Many orthodontists find 100 to 200 μm to be an
acceptable resolution to print models for clear
aligner development; however, most machines
are capable of printing with much finer resolution, if desired.
Type of resin:
Resins are made with different properties for different dental purposes. It is important to consider
the price of the resin, the speed at which it can be
printed, the strength modulus, and the ease with
which it can be separated from the thermoforming materials. Vendors of 3D printers will also
sell the appropriate resins to be used for various
purposes.
Software:
Every 3D printer has software with which it is
compatible. If you are planning to develop in-

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Pacific Coast Society of Orthodontists Bulletin Spring 2021

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