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Desktop Health’s New 3D Printer Lets Your Dentist Print Permanent Prosthetics Onsite

It’s the final “holy grail” of prosthetic dentistry: the ability to have a patient show up for a crown or bridge and leave with the permanent solution the same day. Now Desktop Health, the healthcare business of Desktop Metal focused on medical applications for 3D printing, has delivered a one-two punch to actually get us there.

If you got a dental crown not too many years ago, you got to have all sorts of fun. First there’s the preparatory drilling, which is not pleasant at all, as your dentist shapes your damaged tooth into a spike to serve as an anchor for the prosthetic. Then you probably got to bite down on some really gross forms that contained a gel that hardened to create a mold for the crown.

But you didn’t get to be done that day. The mold was shipped off to a lab where the crown took days or weeks to make. You left your dentist’s office with a temporary prosthetic that was better than nothing–but not by much. Then you had to return to the dentist’s office to get the permanent crown installed, which also involved some final shaping to get it to fit your mouth just right.

Well, if you’re ever wondering how technology is making your life better, this is one area of major improvement for sure. While you can’t avoid the unpleasant tooth-shaping, the rest of the process of getting a crown is much better now. “More than 50% of dentists today have digital scanners at their practices now,” said Mike Jafar, CEO of Desktop Health. (That does away with the yucky and sometimes inaccurate mold-making mentioned above.) “You need the scanner to have a 3D image to print.”

But even with a scanner, until now that 3D image still had to be sent off to a lab, and you still had to go home for days with a temporary crown to wait for the permanent one to arrive. With the launch of Desktop Health’s Einstein 3D printer, along with FDA clearance of its Flexcera Smile Ultra+ resin, now dentists can print not only crowns, but bridges, veneers, inlays and onlays onsite while you wait. “We just received FDA clearance for our resin material to print a customized crown and put it into a patient’s mouth,” explained Jafar. “And our print technology is significantly faster.” That lets you go home the same day with your permanent prosthetic.

There are other advantages as well. “There’s no shaping,” Jafar pointed out. That means not having to put the crown in place, bite down, have the dentist remove it and file it, then doing that over and over to make things fit. “And the dentist can print two copies, and have one in a file for future use if needed,” Jafar added.

The folks at Desktop Health see a huge opportunity here. “There are 120,000 dental practices in the U.S., and 300,000 in the world,” said Jafar. “The dental market is expected to reach $200 billion by 2024. Right now there’s 5% to 10% penetration in 3D printing, but that’s expected to grow by 15% per year. Dental has been a major focus for us, but now we’re going to the chairside market which will be seeing even more explosive growth.”

It’s part of an expanding focus on healthcare within Desktop Metal. “As a broader company, we’re sitting on more than 250 different materials, even including wood,” Jafar said. “And we’re also sitting on a $12 billion additive manufacturing industry that’s projected to grow to $150 billion. So far 10% to 12% of research has been in aerospace, but healthcare is going to surpass that in my opinion. The FDA has started to think about risk mitigation, and is already taking 3D printing seriously as a manufacturing method. We can fundamentally change the direction of healthcare. We named it Desktop Health to show people in healthcare that if they can conceive it, we can print it.”

Desktop Health is already looking forward and exploring new materials. “We’re working with metals, and looking at carbon PEEK [polyetheretherketone, a high-performance plastic],” said Jafar. “The company is producing a wide range of materials that can go into teeth, orthodontics, and so on.”

Jafar sees rapid change coming not just in health care, but across industry. “The manufacturing industry is going to be completely disrupted by additive manufacturing,” he said. “Everybody should be thinking, ‘How can I re-do things–how can I make my product with this?’ It’s not just about cost, but about customization and speed too.

“And anyone in health care who can think of something that can be printed, I’d like to have them think of us first.”

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