Using 3D printing to improve dental care

Posted: July 10, 2023
Three people looking into a 3D printer
Dental students Audrey Grammel (left) and Carter Hagy, plus CDME undergraduate Jacob McDermitt peek at the progress as second-year dentistry graduate students learn the processes to 3D print teeth that could be used to help patients with unique dental challenges. (Credit: Corey Wilson)

Experts at the Center for Design and Manufacturing Excellence (CDME) are helping Ohio State dental students learn how to use high-tech tools to better care for their future patients.

CDME’s Medical Modeling, Materials and Manufacturing (M4) Division collaborated with the College of Dentistry to teach second-year dental students how to use 3D printing to craft partial tooth restorations for people with extensive or unique dental challenges.

3D printing creates accurate, cost-effective and time-efficient treatments for a variety of dental applications, including working models, prosthodontic restorations, orthodontic appliances, surgical guides for implant placement and maxillofacial prostheses.

The Operative Dentistry course taught by Leonardo Nassani, DMD, trains dental students to take a patient scan to 3D print a unique onlay, also known as a crown, to cover and restore a damaged tooth.

Typically made by a dental laboratory and permanently cemented onto the tooth by a dentist, onlays are used to repair teeth that have been damaged by decay or trauma. In the course, students place their 3D-printed onlays onto model teeth to get hands-on experience with leveraging new technologies to individualize patient treatment plans.

During their course with Dr. Nassani with M4 Division members, dentistry students learned the complete 3D-printing process, including print file preparation, printer operation and post-processing of the models. While students waited for their parts to print, Natalia von Windheim, PhD, a postdoctoral scholar in the M4 Division, gave a lecture on medical applications for 3D printing and how to take a patient scan for use in creating a 3D print. M4 undergraduate student Jacob McDermitt helped the class with printer operation, post-processing of the prints and designing a keychain each student could personalize. As part of the M4 Division’s partnership with KLS Martin, KLS Martin Planning Engineer Jackie Palmer also gave a lecture to the class about how they use 3D scanning, virtual planning and  3D prints for patient care, particularly for orthognathic procedures.      

“This collaboration has proven to be successful thanks to great team effort and support from all involved parties,” said Dr. Nassani. “Thanks to M4 for providing the highest education to facilitate high-end patient care at Ohio State.”

Creating 3D-printed onlays requires careful precision to ensure the print is an exact replica of the patient’s anatomy. The process begins with using software to map out the onlay from a patient scan. The designed onlay is then sent to slicer software, which divides the file into pieces and enables the 3D printer to lay each slice layer-by-layer to create the print. The printer then reads the files from USB drives and 3D prints the onlay using a resin material. After the print is completed, it is washed and cured under UV light to create the finished product.

“M4 focuses a lot on personalized medical devices, so collaborating with dentists made a lot of sense as the field continues to grow in that area,” said Megan Malara, PhD, M4 Division director. “Helping train the next generation of dentists on this technology can greatly expand treatment options in the future.”

closeup of resin tooth being scraped from a 3D printer build plate
Closeup of printed resin tooth being scraped from the printer build plate. (Credit: Corey Wilson) 

The learning activity is a simulation of a clinical scenario designed to offer students a hands-on experience of the restorative process from tooth preparation, scanning, designing, printing, washing, curing, adjusting and seating the onlay. Students can develop a treatment plan and execute it in the clinical setting when they reach their third and fourth years.

Part of the College of Dentistry’s “digital dentistry” curriculum, the printing portion of the course took place in the EdTech Incubator, an innovation hub for The Ohio State University’s medical and health sciences communities located in the Health Sciences Library. The incubator is home to a 3D printing lab, a partnership between the M4 Division, the Health Sciences Library and the College of Medicine. The first of its kind at Ohio State, the lab offers 3D printing equipment, training and student support.

Part of the M4 Division’s mission is to educate and train others on how to include 3D printing in health care. They also hosted an anatomy course this semester to teach graduate students how to take an MRI or CT scan to 3D print a model of a patient’s anatomy. The models could then be used for patient education or preparation for a procedure.

“M4 enjoys interdisciplinary collaboration and 3D printing is valuable in many different medical fields,” said Malara. “It is part of our mission to teach future health care providers how to incorporate it into treatment plans to give as individualized care as possible to patients.”

Both courses have plans to continue in upcoming semesters.

by Jocelyn Wells, CEMAS communications

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