Clear dental aligners, like those marketed by Align Technologies under the Invisalign brand, have grown by leaps and bounds over the last several years. The vast, overwhelming majority of these devices are produced via a combination of 3D printing and traditional thermoforming, and are perhaps the single highest volume application for 3D printing technologies in the world today. Clearly, this is an area of great interest to the 3D printing industry at large, but also the dental industry.
The concept of a ‘killer application’ is often discussed in 3D printing circles and by industry pundits. More and more, however, we are observing that the true ‘killer app’ for 3D printing is awareness of its real capabilities and strengths. Awareness is important not only as a first step to expertly leveraging the technology, but it’s also an important factor for driving interest in taking the first step to invest in it directly. In the case of clear dental aligners, companies like Align (and today, many others) have already expertly leveraged the technology to produce an outstanding product. But for dental printing, it is possible that it is the other area of awareness that could change the dental 3D printing industry forever.
What I think is going to be in that killer application realm for this specific area is clear aligners, which can serve as a way to expand the public’s knowledge of the capabilities of digital dentistry- especially 3D printing. This general dental consumer awareness stands to get the average person aware of 3D printing technology and its interaction with digital dental scanning and the level of care and value it can provide them. With companies like Smile Direct Club and Candid now focusing on going directly to the dental consumer themselves, this establishes the potential to so significantly increase the level of consumer awareness of dental 3D printing capabilities. In short, when customers start picking dental care professionals and products based on their ability to provide a level of quality or value that only 3D printing technologies can provide, that is when the dental 3D printing revolution will really get into full swing. And today, the clear dental aligner holds the best potential to connect the dental consumer and the underlying technology together with awareness of the realities of dental printing.
Scott Dunham, Vice President of Research