New 3D printing technology is making the process of getting a dental crown much quicker and easier.
Normally a dentist drills into the damaged tooth to get a good fit, makes a mold of the tooth, and sends it to an outside lab that scans and digitizes its 3D structure. The lab sends the digitized image back to the dentist, who can make modifications. Then the image is sent back to the lab, where the crown is made. The crown is sent to the dentist’s office, and the patient must return to have the permanent crown inserted. During the two or three weeks that the process takes, the patient must wear a temporary crown.
However, 3D printing can change all of that. A dentist can use a small camera to scan the misshapen or damaged tooth and send the information to a milling machine located in the office. The machine can carve the crown from a block of porcelain in about 15 minutes. The dentist then prepares the crown and inserts it on the tooth. The whole process can be completed in about an hour while the patient waits, thus avoiding the need to wear a temporary crown and come back for another appointment.
The process uses computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM). The technology is not currently widespread, but as more patients hear about it and dentists recognize its benefits, it may become more popular.
3D printing technology cannot be used for all crowns. The scanners cannot see below the gumline, so if there is damage to the tooth below the gumline, it will still be necessary to make a mold. The carving process cannot produce the intricate detail of a real tooth, so it is still necessary to make a mold of a visible front tooth.