Major changes are taking place in dental laboratories as a result of new digital technologies. Our aim is to provide an overview of these changes. In this article the reader will be introduced to the range of layered fabrication technologies and suggestions are made how these might be used in dentistry.
Key publications in English from the past two decades are surveyed.
The first digital revolution took place many years ago now with the production of dental restorations such as veneers, inlays, crowns and bridges using dental CAD–CAM systems and new improved systems appear on the market with great rapidity. The reducing cost of processing power will ensure that these developments will continue as exemplified by the recent introduction of a new range of digital intra-oral scanners. With regard to the manufacture of prostheses this is currently dominated by subtractive machining technology but it is inevitable that the additive processing routes of layered fabrication, such as FDM, SLA, SLM and inkjet printing, will start to have an impact. In principle there is no reason why the technology cannot be extended to all aspects of production of dental prostheses and include customized implants, full denture construction and orthodontic appliances. In fact anything that you might expect a dental laboratory to produce can be done digitally and potentially more consistently, quicker and at a reduced cost.
Dental device manufacturing will experience a second revolution when layered fabrication techniques reach the point of being able to produce high quality dental prostheses. The challenge for the dental materials research community is to marry the technology with materials that are suitable for use in dentistry. This can potentially take dental materials research in a totally different direction.