Many people think that, in the future, we will be able to 3D print human beings. However, biology experts are sceptical about this idea. Perhaps teeth could make a better starting point. That’s the only purpose of Objet260 Dental Selection, a new device unveiled this month by Stratasys, a 3D printing firm.
Nonetheless, the realistic teeth, nerves, and gums that the device prints out are far from being destined for the interior of people’s mouths: alternatively, they are models for dental professionals to prod, poke, and show to their patients when explaining specific procedures.
For some, the way in which the new printer takes the digital files produced by the intra-oral scanners used by dentists and turns them into “colour, multi-texture dental models” closes the loop in digital dentistry. The printer uses the PolyJet dental materials produced by the company itself and promises “life-like gum textures” and several colour shades in all the resulting models.
The production of teeth, nerve, and gum models is just one of the many examples of the forthcoming usages of the 3D printing technology as applied to the medical sector. The ability to print various types of human tissue – and eventually entire organs – is among the most ambitious aims. It is now being done with industrial printers producing dental models now in use.
In August 2014, a research company claimed that the medical and dental market for 3D printers is likely to expand to $867m (i.e. £523m) by 2025. Nonetheless, the company argued that if “bio-printing” the liver, kidney, or pieces of skin develops into a commercial reality, then the market could actually become several times that size. On the whole, one research company predicts that 2.3m 3D printers will be sold in 2018, while over three quarters of the revenue of the 3D printing market will come from its industrial usage, rather than people purchasing these devices for home use.