Q&A – SprintRay bets big on 3D printed dentures
Q: Since launching in 2014, SprintRay is now very much focused on the dental industry – why did the company decide to go after that particular sector?
A: When we first launched the MoonRay on Kickstarter, we had no particular market in mind. 3D printing has changed a lot in the last four years, and one of the oddities we noticed was that Glidewell Laboratories was using our printers for producing dental models, crowns, and bridges. In speaking with dentists, we realised that they were in a unique position to use 3D printing to make a positive impact on end-users. This aligned with our original belief – that 3D printing can affect positive change in the lives of ordinary people – and so we began focusing more and more on dental.
Q: What types of users are implementing this technology, are they primarily large dental labs or are you seeing individual practices get on board?
A: We’re definitely seeing both. One of the first people in the dental industry to buy and use our printers was a dental surgeon with an individual practice. Compared with the six-figure investments many individual/group practices make in things like cone-beam scanners, a four-figure 3D printer that gives them production capabilities is a no-brainer. We have practices that have totally overhauled their workflows as the result of integrating our printers. They’ve found so much more control over treatment plans that the dentists are more involved in-patient cases than ever. The future of the clinic is the in-office production of dental appliances. Workflow revitalisation is a big piece of the puzzle, but it also benefits the patients - when clinics don’t have to have appliances made offsite and shipped, that’s a huge reduction in patient wait time.
Q: So, patients themselves are also benefiting from this approach?
A: Big time. One of our first dental customers is an Endodontist and a professor at the University of Southern California. Before he brought 3D printing into his practice, he performed root canal surgeries that would often take 1.5 hours of drill time. In particularly difficult cases, he would need to space this out over multiple appointments. Once he integrated a SprintRay 3D printer into his practice, the same surgery is typically performed with only 10-20 minutes of drill time. And these were in the very early days. Last month, one of our dentists in southern California 3D printed a full set of dentures and delivered them free of charge for a customer who couldn’t afford traditionally-fabricated dentures and hadn’t had teeth since the mid-nineties. Traditionally-fabricated dentures would’ve made this kind of charity cost-prohibitive, but 3D printing cut the cost enough to make it happen.
Q: What are some of the most common hurdles customers are facing when first implementing 3D printing into their dental workflows?
A: Far and away the biggest difficulty is software. Once a print is set up and initiated, a model comes out – that’s the simple part. Introducing a new piece of software into what is usually already a fragile ecosystem of disparate pieces is the biggest hurdle. This is why we put together so many partnerships for integration. Hooking all these programs up so that they can talk to each other is a huge part of making the workflow transition as easy as possible, because these handoffs from scan to modelling to printing are where most people run into trouble.
Q: The market for desktop 3D printers within dental has grown considerably – how does SprintRay separate itself in this increasingly competitive market?
A: Our biggest asset is that we can direct-print dental appliances with our certified open resin system. A lot of large 3D printing companies are dipping their feet into dental. There are some common dental appliances that most stereolithographic printers can crank out, but there are very few that can use FDA-cleared PMMA materials, and even fewer that offer tech support for those third-party resins. As a dentist, if I can’t print denture bases, I can’t print crowns, I can’t print appliances that are going to live in people’s mouths, then I haven’t purchased a dental printer. The free printed dentures we talked about earlier – there are only a handful of printers on the market that can print monolithic dentures in a supported ecosystem. And those that can typically cost double, triple, fivefold of what we charge. We’re working to add new resins all the time to our software, which means that our printer has the capacity to grow as rapidly as the materials.
Q: Materials are one of the biggest areas of development for dental – can you tell us about the process of identifying and certifying dental-specific materials?
A: Identifying materials often comes out of speaking with dentists and labs to see what they need. Our certification of NextDent came along because we wanted to provide dentists with direct-printed, FDA-approved materials. The flexibility that brought was huge. Certifying these resins is a huge undertaking that involves printing over and over with minor adjustments to our software – balancing speed with reliability is always a challenge. Dentists don’t have time for failed prints, so our certification process is very rigorous, and we don’t release new resin compatibility until we’re certain that it’ll work every time.
Q: Last year, SprintRay struck a partnership with Patterson Dental – how has the business/partnership grown in that time?
A: In addition to their sheer size and reach, Patterson has a great history of bringing new technology into practices - and it was this history that really excited us. Their success with selling the CEREC system led us to believe that they had what it took to bring 3D printing into full implementation. Together, we’ve been able to bring 3D printing into the offices of dental practices and labs that we couldn’t have reached on our own. As we approach the one-year mark, we find that their team is really embracing 3D printing.
Q: The dental 3D printing market is expected to reach 9.5 billion USD by 2027 – where huge, unforeseen advancements in materials, we think that dentures and fully-prindo you see the biggest potential for the technology?
A: Barring ted teeth are going to be the next big thing. Right now, the patient experience for denture fitting is a nightmare. It involves no fewer than 3 appointments (often many more) and months of waiting for fabrication, for shipping, for adjustments. 3D printing has the capacity to reduce that to just a few appointments over the course of a week or two. Printed dentures can be quickly adjusted for fit, they’re incredibly strong, and are significantly easier to repair than traditionally-fabricated models. We’re betting big on dentures.