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Prosthetic dentistry: Print your own teeth

Producing casts for false teeth and replacement crowns may soon be a thing of the past as scanning and 3D printing makes its way to the dentist's office, mechanical engineers say.

Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore is based in Portland, Oregon, and has written for Wired, The Christian Science Monitor, and public radio. Her semi-obscure hobbies include climbing, billiards, board games that take up a lot of space, and piano.
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore

What if, instead of waiting a few weeks for your dentist to produce a cast for dental implants or replacement crowns, your jaw was scanned and, during that same dentist's visit, you were able to pull a perfect polymer shape out of a 3D printer and be on your merry way?

A window bracket 3D printed on a ZPrinter. New research suggests the possibility of printing dental implants, crowns, and more. Creative Tools/Flickr

Mechanical engineers in Iran report in the International Journal of Rapid Manufacturing that printing our own teeth may not be so far off into the future.

While the process could be prohibitively expensive for years to come, it turns out that 3D printing, coupled with the comparatively affordable cone-beam computed tomography (CBCT), may ultimately revolutionize prosthetic dentistry.

The tech, called rapid prototyping, uses a 3D image to control a laser that cures powdered or liquid polymer into highly complex shapes. In fact, Hossein Kheirollahi of the Imam Hossein University and Farid Abbaszadeh of the Islamic Azad University say this technology can produce just about any solid, porous, or complicated shape.

While the Iranian team has been able to demonstrate the use of rapid prototyping in developing dental objects quickly, we're likely at least a few years out from actual commercial development.

Below, watch tool replication via 3D printing: