Can you 3D Print Your Own Invisalign Braces?

3D printing technology, also known as additive manufacturing, has resulted in some amazing creations over the last few years. As the technology progresses and becomes more refined, some have even set out to do the seemingly impossible, such as printing Invisalign braces for correcting crooked teeth.

What Is 3D Printing?

Can You 3D Print Your Own Invisalign Braces?

Image via Flickr by Accretion Disc

Simply put, 3D printing is the process of making three-dimensional objects from digital files using additive processes. The additive process lays down successive layers of a material until those layers ultimately form the intended object.

The first step in 3D printing is making a CAD (computer-aided design) file of whatever it is you want to create — such as Invisalign braces. That CAD file is then used to create a 3D modeling application with a 3D scanner. It's a relatively straightforward process, although the costs associated with taking a course on 3D printing and investing in both the software and hardware will cost more than any pair of Invisalign braces you can have made at your local dental office. Still, that doesn't mean that it hasn't already been tried.

What Is Invisalign?

Invisalign is a series of invisible aligners made of a thermoplastic material that looks like teeth-whitening trays. Your dentist takes molds and scans of your teeth to create a series of custom-made Invisalign aligners that can move your teeth in sequence until they're straight. During each stage, only certain teeth move via the force placed on them by the tray, giving your dentist precise control over how your teeth are straightened.

Since Invisalign aligners are clear, they're virtually invisible, and few will ever notice you're wearing them. This makes Invisalign a great option for adults or anyone who doesn't want to deal with traditional braces. You can also remove them to drink, eat, floss, or brush during treatment. And since there are no metal wires to adjust, you'll spend less time in the dentist's office while still enjoying the same benefits offered by traditional braces.

With so many benefits to invisible aligners, it's no wonder that people ask whether 3D printers can churn out their very own Invisalign alignment trays. While this may seem a little far-fetched, we've got news for you . . .

It Has Already Been Done

Can you 3D print Invisalign braces? You can — if you have access to the proper equipment, as college student Amos Dudley did. Using his college's 3D printing and fabrication setup, which included a Stratasys Dimension 1200es, Dudley was able to create a custom alignment tray similar to Invisalign, which he dubbed Orthoprint. It wasn't an easy task, though, as Dudley first had to research orthodontics, figure out how Invisalign works in the first place, and learn how the plastic used in the manufacturing process can help shape teeth.

When Dudley was ready, he obtained some special plastic from eBay and played around with the college's digital fabrication lab. When he discovered that the college's 3D printer was accurate enough for his purposes, he made casts of his teeth and, using a laser scanner, convert the resulting mold into digital format. Since Dudley wanted to correct his crooked teeth, he had to develop an animation of the 3D model that featured a series of frames showing his teeth moving into the correct positions. Each of those frames would serve as a template for a different aligner tray that he would print out and wear.

The Verdict?

Dudley was indeed able to straighten his crooked smile with his 3D printed alignment trays. Surprisingly, 16 weeks of wearing the trays 24/7 was all it took to get his teeth back in the correct position. The total cost of the materials Dudley used to create his Orthoprint trays was just $60, but remember that he already had access to a state-of-the-art 3D printing lab. That's something few of us ever have, putting the idea of 3D printing our own alignment trays out of reach for many, at least for now.

Still, it's a peek into what the future may hold for Invisalign technology. If the costs associated with manufacturing an effective product such as alignment trays come down thanks to newer manufacturing methods such as 3D printing, we can all benefit from more affordable dental treatments in the future.

Although we're still a ways off from enjoying print-at-home braces and alignment trays, it's nice to know that affordable dental plans can get you the dental treatments you need now, and for a fraction of the cost of a university's 3D printing setup. If you had access to a 3D printing lab, would you print your own Invisalign braces?

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