Uses of 3D printing
Every day, dental offices use 3D printing for applications such as night guards, dentures, orthodontic expanders, bite splints, temporary crowns, skulls for cranio-facial surgery planning, and even for fabrication of metal parts of functional appliances. LightForce Orthodontics has created one of the most efficient uses of 3D printing — creating fully custom, 3D-printed orthodontic brackets. Dr. Alfred Griffin III, CEO and founder of LightForce, says, “3D printing just makes sense in the orthodontic space. We already diagnose and treatment plan in three dimensions, and with LightForce 3D printing in orthodontics, we are able to use digital technology in three dimensions which makes treatment more accurate.”
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“Orthodontics is the golden child of the 3D printing industry largely because of Invisalign,” describes Dr. Griffin. “They have the largest application of 3D printing to date for their aligner manufacturing. The process makes a lot of sense, but doesn’t even come close to the scale of 3D printing that is needed for LightForce fully customized brackets. Clear aligner therapy is a great tool for about 15-20 percent of orthodontic patients in the U.S. LightForce is applicable to the bigger, more lucrative market for orthodontists — teens and adolescents.”
Dr. Griffin continues, “Several of our practices have told us they now offer only clear aligners and LightForce because of the similar and familiar workflow. The patient comes in, they take a down payment and scan, and their bonding appointment is 45 minutes. That time frame is the same whether they are using clear aligners or LightForce.”
Why is 3D printing of brackets so important?
The LightForce process checks all the boxes for maximizing the benefits of 3D printing.
✔ The white, patient-specific 3D-printed Cloud polycrystalline alumina brackets can be customized with optional distal hooks on the lateral incisors, cuspids, and bicuspids.
✔ The patient-specific LightTray indirect bonding (IBD) tray is 3D printed from a proprietary material unique to LightForce that optimizes the doctor or assistant “user experience” (UX) and bonding accuracy.
✔ LightForce TurboTrays are 3D printed to aid in the patient’s bite correction, correct deep bites, or to help avoid occlusal interferences.
Dr. Griffin notes that once LightForce 3D-printed brackets are placed, the mechanics are the same as for “traditional” braces. The orthodontist still maintains control over the treatment plan. He explains, “You are changing wires, expressing torque, doing sliding mechanics — all protocols that you would normally do. But LightForce brackets are delivered by a more sophisticated indirect bonding tray that is also digitally designed to work while eliminating all of the errors and inefficiencies of traditional one-size-fits-all brackets. The bonding trays alone have been designed with 7 or 8 algorithms, so the bracket is designed to fit exactly to the tooth anatomy. There is no guesswork or decisions on bonding day.”
Unlike traditional indirect bonding, LightPlan algorithms always match the real base-to-tooth anatomy, so tooth position (i.e., torque) isn’t limited by the extension of a composite base. Dentists who are experienced in IDB have reported that 3D-printed brackets are less likely to come off due to their real, not composite, customized bases, and the software avoids occlusal interferences, as well as allowing for additional TurboTrays. 3D-printed slots are more accurate and precise than injection molded slots, preventing divergence.
3D printing lets you work at the top of your credentials
Orthodontists who already offer clear aligners will appreciate Lightforce’s similar digital planning process and how it applies their orthodontic knowledge for moving teeth on a computer screen and combines that movement with their knowledge of fixed appliances, sliding mechanics, and bracket-bite detection. With this seamless integration into already established digital protocols, the LightForce system increases efficiency. Because of the customized fit of the 3D-printed brackets, patients need fewer and shorter visits.
Dr. Griffin emphasizes, “3D printing of brackets enables orthodontists to work at the ‘top of their credentials.’ Because the bracket is placed specific to tooth anatomy, the orthodontist can delegate to the staff member, taking even less ‘doctor time.’” Dr. Griffin adds, “This is a similar principle to the medical space where MDs have PAs or nurses that are able to perform certain time-consuming tasks. The orthodontist’s time can then be spent diagnosing and treatment planning and not just installing brackets.”
The precision of LightForce’s 3D printing is very different than injection molding. “You cannot injection mold parts with the high complexity, undercuts, and geometry needed for these brackets,” explains Dr. Griffin. “That’s the way that traditional bracket companies and ‘pseudo-custom’ bracket companies can stamp out thousands of similar brackets. LightForce’s 3D-printing and digital manufacturing processes are achieved on expensive industrial equipment that would not be cost-effective on a smaller scale. We can iterate changes very quickly because our R&D factor and digital processes.”
Because each patient’s tooth and jaw anatomy is unique, “getting it right” the first time requires utmost accuracy. Most patients are not even aware that orthodontics does more than straighten the front six teeth. But of course, orthodontists need to take so many details into consideration —the bite, smile arc, and then choices for retention. Dr. Griffin says, “Because of LightForce’s capability for full customization, the only thing that matters is tooth position — bracket position doesn’t matter; prescription doesn’t matter — the software helps determine the customized bracket shape that will adjust to the doctor’s plan for that unique patient.”
3D printing in orthodontics is a game changer. Dr. Griffin sums up, “Lightforce is offering a sophisticated technology weapon to orthodontists. You can tell your patients that your office is fully customized for their teeth. This is how you can compete with all the noise out there in the market.”