Advanced technology at UT Health San Antonio took a huge step forward with the acquisition by the School of Dentistry of an automated, multiple 3D printer.
The Department of Comprehensive Dentistry and the university have partnered with Formlabs, a 3D printing technology developer and manufacturer. The printer, dubbed Formcells, is one of the first models of its kind, and the School of Dentistry is the only dental school in the country to have one, said Richard L. Zimmermann, D.D.S., assistant professor and the department’s director for digital application.
“It’s an automated system that combines up to 10 different 3D printers into one unit and will automatically run those units. You could have 10 different materials being printed at the same time,” Dr. Zimmermann said. “3D printers are having a big impact on dentistry and health care.”
He said the printer has numerous dental applications. It can print mouthguards, dental and orthodontics models, impressions, surgical guides to place implants more accurately, and more. In general, the technology means higher quality diagnostic and treatment work, in a shorter time frame, which means shorter waiting times for people needing dental work, Dr. Zimmermann said.
Robert Taft, D.D.S., professor and chair of the Department of Comprehensive Dentistry, said the new, noninvasive technology will greatly add to patients’ comfort levels as well.
“The traditional impression method included the use of a custom tray filled with impression material that would take up to three minutes to cure and was very bulky in the patient’s mouth,” Dr. Taft said. “Patients with a severe gagging reflex or with claustrophobia found this to be very threatening, which often compromised the accuracy of the procedure. Now, with the advent of intra oral scanning, a very small camera in the shape of a wand will take a video capture of the entire mouth in a very short period of time.
“We have also found that the milling and printing aspect of the work flow produces more accurate restorations in a faster period of time using less materials, thus reducing the overall cost for treatment,” Dr. Taft added.
Dr. Zimmermann said the printer could also be used for many other medical devices and is available to other schools and departments. For example, he said, “one of the cardiac physicians wanted to look at a heart. It had a pacemaker. He wanted to see if we could actually print a model to show where the pacemaker and wires were. We did.”
Dr. Taft said the new 3D printer positions UT Health San Antonio at the forefront of cutting-edge technology.
“As we refine this technology, it will allow Formlabs to make product improvements and will support UT Health San Antonio as the leader in digital technology as this area continues to grow in health care,” he said.