In dentistry, additive manufacturing is typically used to replace damaged or lost teeth. However, researchers at KU Leuven University are now looking beyond replacement and towards regeneration and regrowth of damaged teeth, using AM technology to restore the tooth’s root.
The Additive Manufacturing benefits in dentistry
As 3D printing is more suited to creating small batches of unique and complex structures, this method is increasingly used in the regenerative medicine industry and is capable of rapidly manufacturing highly personalized pieces, made specifically for each individual patient, while still being relatively cost-effective.
Another benefit of AM in a medical setting is its ability to create biocompatible components. 3D bioprinting is a method of manufacturing using bioink, a material made using biological material. Bioprinting is being explored for its applications in bone fracture treatment as well as fully 3D-printed human organs. Most importantly, the technology is also being used for the cell regrowth of human teeth.
The focus on tissue restoration regrowth rather than replacement, known as regenerative dentistry, gained traction after new observations and innovations of 3D bioprinting were discovered by researchers at KU Leuven University. They observed compromised dentin-pulp complexes and their effect on tooth growth.
Research has shown that teeth affected by developmental problems or trauma can compromise dental pulp. This pulp houses most of the tooth’s nerves and is responsible for the tooth’s formation of dentin, the less brittle material that supports the enamel of the tooth. In damaged teeth, pulp necrosis may occur and severely hinder tooth growth. In these circumstances, the cell tissue of the tooth, or even the entire tooth, may be lost.
Researchers have begun to experiment with the restoration of compromised dentin-pulp complexes, using 3D-printed chitosan scaffolding. If completed correctly, this will help the inflamed root to promote dentin production, regrowing the previously damaged tooth.
Chitosan refers to the biomaterial used to create the tooth root scaffolding. This material is derived from the exoskeletons of creatures, primarily crustaceans, and from fungi. This material is preferred as it is biocompatible and has antimicrobial properties. The fungi-derived chitosan is also less likely to cause an allergic reaction.
Other applications in AM dental industry
A good example of AM’s potential in this industry is in Nasoalveolar Molding (NAM) plates. NAM plates are plastic plates used to “reshape the gums, lip and nostrils with a plastic plate before cleft lip and palate surgery”.
The plates are used predominantly in young children. They prevent the cleft palette from worsening, meaning less invasive surgeries will be needed in the future.
As the shape and dimensions of the cleft palette will be different for every child, these NAM plates should be highly customizable. Additionally, the speed of the NAM plate creation process should be as fast as possible; the sooner the child has the plate fitted, the less severe the developing cleft palette can become. The dimensions will also change as the child ages, meaning the fitting must be fast as the plate will become obsolete and need replacement after a set period of time. Both of these requirements- fast rate of manufacture and highly customizable- are both accommodated by additive manufacturing.
Scientists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), noticing the potential for this manufacturing method, studied how addtivie manufacturing improves the current process of NAM plate manufacture and fitting. Their new process, a “semi-automated workflow” called RapidNAM, scans the mouth of the child with an “automatic detection of the alveolar ridge”. This process can 3D print “a series of molding plates within minutes”. (Lord, B. 2018). The user is still able to intervene and customize the CAD manually.
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Article and featured image:
VENTRE, Terry, AZO Materials, How 3D printing could help to regrow teeth from the root https://www.azom.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=20487, published on Jun9 2021, re-edited and published by João Andrade on Jun10 2021;
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