The combination of 3D models and 3D printing was first commercially introduced into orthodontics in 1999 by Invisalign. Companies such as OrthoCAD, E-models, and then OrthoProof soon followed with 3D digital model storage and 3D virtual treatment planning with each company possessing their own proprietary software. In the early days of 3D models, data acquisition was accomplished by either sending in an impression or a plaster/stone model with a bite registration, which would be either cone beam computed tomography (CBCT) scanned or laser scanned by a desktop scanner. Hard copies of these 3D models were also available to be 3D printed from any of these companies. However, the cost of 3D printing from a lab manufacturer until the early 2010s was quite expensive with costs in the range of ~$100 – $200/model. This high expense was due to the cost of the hardware and software that was required to acquire and produce these 3D models and truly not practical for use on an everyday basis for our patients. As a result, the thought of an orthodontic practice in the 2000s utilizing 3D acquisition and 3D printing technology was really never a possibility.
Today, as with many different types of technologies (i.e. – HDTVs, PCs, and laptops), over time with technology integration and mass production, prices have not only dropped significantly with the hardware and software but the technology has continued to improve. The cost for desktop laser scanners (~$8000 – $15,000) and 3D printers (~$30,000 – $75,000) has been significantly reduced. As a result, 3D labs can now 3D print our patient models at a fraction of the cost in the range of $12 – $30 per model. The thought of an orthodontic practice owning its own 3D printer also is truly no longer out of the realm of possibilities. In addition, the advent of cost effective, efficient, and patient friendly intra-oral scanners has truly revolutionized how we can acquire 3D data, making 3D data acquisition much easier and more comfortable for our patients.
3D data acquisition and 3D printing technologies in the 21st century orthodontic practice are now a reality. We have been utilizing 3D printing in our practices since 2012. I have been asked to lecture on 3D printing at our upcoming AAO annual session on April 26th in New Orleans. If 3D printing is something that interests you and have been evaluating for your practice, I look forward to being able to share our experiences with you and factors to consider for implementation and purchase into your practice.