I’ve often wondered when my first ‘real life’ 3D printing experience would come. I’ve been lucky enough to see a few printers in action, indeed there’s one at The National Museum of Computing, but these have all worked as demonstrations of the technology, printing out head scans, chess pieces and the like. When would 3D printing actually have an impact on my life?
The answer came sooner than expected.
I’ve had a dead tooth to the right of my front teeth for a few years now. On the last inspection the Dentist declared it hazardous as an infection had taken root in the, err, root. It had to go. Normally that would be that but as it would leave me with a rather gappy smile, he recommended a bridge, a false tooth the connects to a metal post in the vacated socket and also surrounds the adjacent tooth, using it as an anchor. This means no plate is required and it can be treated as the real thing. Normal procedure? Extract the tooth, take a mould, send it off the a lab where a replica is cast and set before being sent back and fitted. The process takes about two weeks.
However, just a few weeks ago, my dentist took delivery of a CEREC ceramic 3D printer and scanning software. Using a light probe he was able to scan inside my mouth before and after extraction to create a 3D on-screen model in which he created a new tooth based o the scan of the now extracted offender. After some design flourishes (he actually improved the shape!) the bridge was ready to print.
The printer itself was sat next to me in the room and I was allowed to set it up and switch it on. Over the course of about 30 minutes, two water-cooled burrs beavered away at a ceramic block, carving my bridge. Once complete, the dentist snapped off the bridge and set about modifying it to an exact fit. After about 20 minutes of fine-tuning it was glued into place and my smile was preserved.
I was naturally feeling a little apprehensive about the first look in the mirror but not to worry. I couldn’t visually tell the difference between the old one and this new upstart. It even feels identical to the tongue. Bridges have to be replaced after the first six months as the socket changes shape as it heals. This is great news, I get to see it made all over again!
If you want to visit the dentist of the future ask if they have a CEREC machine or visit my guys; The Hub Dental Practice in Milton Keynes.