Should You Incorporate 3D Printing Into Your Dental Practice?

by Beau Peters


3D printing has made its mark on nearly every industry in recent years. From automotive to education, almost every sector can find ways to put this technology to use – including dentistry.

Today, dentists can 3D print aligners, retainers, and even dental implants at a fraction of the cost of traditional manufacturing methods. That’s something both you and your patients can appreciate. Plus, when you can 3D print “in-house,” you know the exact quality of the product you’re creating, allowing for a level of confidence that will improve patient care.

But should you invest in a 3D printer for your practice? Or should you outsource your needs to a third-party company? Maybe you’re ready to jump on board, but you’re not sure which method would best fit the needs of your practice.

If you want to incorporate 3D printing into your work, it’s essential to weigh some of the pros and cons of your production options. So let’s cover some of those, so you can decide to start printing effectively as soon as possible.

In-House 3D Printing

There are plenty of benefits to creating things like retainers and implants within the walls of your practice. Most importantly, it gives you control over just about everything. In addition, 3D printing has taken the dental world by storm recently, and bringing a printer into your practice can be a great marketing tool. Some of the benefits you’ll enjoy include the following:

  • Speedy turnaround times
  • Staff experienced with the specific needs/wants of your patients
  • The ability to make adjustments quickly
  • The ability to use high-quality materials and control the quality yourself

However, a 3D printer can cost thousands of dollars. No matter how successful your practice is, that can significantly blow your budget. Therefore, in-house printing is best for larger practices with more capital. In addition to purchasing the printer itself, you’ll either need to hire staff members who know how to use it or spend time, effort, and possibly more money training your current team on accurately creating and printing oral products.

If you’re going to advertise your practice as one that utilizes 3D printing, the last thing you’ll want is to experience in-house hiccups. If you decide to go this route, do as many test runs as possible and build your team’s confidence before using your printer to create something for a patient in need.

Hiring a Third-Party Printer

Third-party 3D printing companies are reasonably common in the dental industry. If you’re a smaller practice with only a few team members, outsourcing your 3D printing efforts can save you time and resources. You won’t have to hire any additional staff or train your existing team on how to use new equipment, and any fees you end up paying a third-party company will likely balance out thanks to the money you’ll save on a high-quality printer.

There are some drawbacks to consider, of course. First, the turnaround time could be faster. Most 3D printing dental labs or smart factories can take two to four weeks to complete an order. If you have patients in need, that could be a turn-off for them and might not serve you any better than more traditional modelling methods.
It would be best to have more quality control when you go with a third-party company. If you decide to go this route, make sure you do your research before deciding which lab is suited to fit your needs.

Splitting Your Costs and Your Efforts

There’s a third option to consider if you don’t have the funds to purchase a 3D printer but want to keep as much control as possible while ensuring faster production times.

Consider sharing with another practice.

If another local practice is in a similar financial situation, consider teaming up with them and sharing the cost of a quality 3D printer. If you do, you can splurge on a few extras, like VR setups that make it easier to interact with your creations and make intuitive changes before printing.

When you split the cost with another practice, you can also work together to determine which type of printer fits your needs. Sometimes, bouncing ideas off another professional can give you a new perspective on the type of machinery that will benefit you the most.

Remember that if you decide to share your 3D printer, you’ll have to work out a strict schedule. The last thing you want is to experience a delay in production because you’re not sure who will operate the printer at any given time. However, if you’re willing to stick to a rotation and pay equal amounts to use the printer each month, this is a great way to cut costs and quickly give your patients what they need.

There’s no “one-size-fits-all” when it comes to how you incorporate 3D printing into your practice. Instead, consider your size, financial status, and what would benefit your patients the most. By weighing out the pros and cons, you’ll have a better time determining what works for you so that you can offer products quickly and at the best price possible.

About the Author

Beau Peters is a creative professional with a background in service and management. He is also an avid researcher and a writer of “all the things.” He has a passion for purpose-driven content and bettering the human experience. In his free time, he enjoys having a good cup of coffee and seeing the world.