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Silicones for additive manufacturing in dental applications

Healthcare 11.11.2020

How to improve dental care for all patients

There are today huge challenges to improve dental care for all patients. For example, many children suffer from what is known as malocclusion, which means that their upper and lower teeth are incorrectly aligned. This can cause serious problems, both in terms of dental health, discomfort and appearance. In the past, braces were practically the only possible solution (apart from invasive surgery) to deal with this problem. These orthodontic devices are costly, require multiple adjustments, can be uncomfortable and require many years of care.

To counter this difficulty, Sandraw a startup based in Taiwan, China, has been researching and developing new 3D modeling techniques  for rapid prototyping of dental devices and an innovative new therapy, known as DeBrace myofunctional training. This disruptive orthodontic technology aligns patients’ teeth by training their oral muscles. The device is a custom-made discreet dental arch that directs teeth to grow on the right track. To manufacture the trainer, the company has developed its own additive manufacturing printers (also known as 3D dental printing ), using customized silicone materials. The process uses layer-by-layer deposits of materials.

Dental devices, such as the myofunctional trainer, have to be personalized to the patient’s mouth and must be extremely accurate. They also have to meet the following specifications:

  • Use of medical-grade materials to guarantee biocompatibility and avoid harming the skin and generating allergies 
  • Ensure comfort for the patient, of particular importance when used for children
  • Provide abrasion resistance to maintain the position required to realign the teeth
  • Offer aging resistance for long-term use
  • Avoid yellowing for aesthetic appearance
  • Create a balance between tensile strength and elongation to create an efficient track for aligning teeth
  • Guarantee compatibility with the strictest standards, nationally and internationally. 

The Taiwanese startup chose silicone rubber for its dental additive manufacturing system because it met all of the technical criteria listed above. They also demanded that the silicone they used would give them the following advantages:

  • Freedom of design to create the highest quality products
  • Easier and more adaptive product customization to meet dentists’ requirements
  • Faster Time-to-Market to launch new concepts and parts
  • Augmented functional features that makes the dental devices efficient and comfortable
  • Greater environmental sustainability since silicone is readily available and not made from petroleum by-products.

Elkem Silicones was first contacted to test several silicones for manufacturing this innovative dental device with their additive manufacturing printing technology. Shanghai-based Elkem Silicones R&D specialists proposed an AMSil™ Silbione™ grade formulation that met the customer’s specifications and quality standards. 

After numerous tests, this product has proven to be efficient and reliable for the five-phase process:

  1. The dentist or orthodontist sends the impression mold to Sandraw
  2. The mold is then scanned in 3D at the DeBrace digital dental laboratory using its specially developed algorithm 
  3. The lab generates a high-precision orthodontic model in a CAD design software file that is uploaded to the additive manufacturing machine 
  4. The prosthesis is then processed through the 3D printing system in three phases of processing to achieve optimal accuracy 
  5. The functional device is then sent back to the dentist for final fitting on the patient.

In the dental industry, orthodontic professionals recognize that the AMSil™ Silbione™ brand is a guarantee of product performance, backed with Elkem Silicones’ full-service offer. This end-to-end support includes the supply of documentation and certification for critical applications, expert assistance to facilitate industrial processes and full collaboration to comply with regulatory requirements and satisfy customer demand. 

This is why silicone-based formulations have become the material of choice in advanced dentistry and orthodontics and in particular in breakthrough additive manufacturing applications. It is used in all cutting-edge areas of the dental profession to improve treatment and patient comfort. 

New uses include: 

  • Upstream manufacturing of surgical guides, placed over the patient’s teeth to direct metal drilling inserts, thus optimizing the workflow and reliability of surgical procedures; this avoids multiple iterations, reducing discomfort for the patient and time spent by dental surgeons 
  • Investment casting in digital dentistry to produce diagnostic waxups, molds and test models for removable partial denture frameworks, long-term temporary prosthodontic components, thermoformed gutters, metal crowns, bridges and implants
  • Reduced manufacturing times for final components, including direct in-house manufacturing for certain parts
  • Processing of post-curing components with excellent and accurate surface finishing, shortening final fitting stages, thus generating significant savings and cost-effective solutions.

In short, additive manufacturing printing technology is opening new opportunities for the dental industry. It improves the patient experience and enhances the efficiency and image of practitioners. By saving time in the various stages of treatment from intraoral scans to final production in a seamless digital workflow, it is becoming the new standard in dental treatment. Elkem Silicones is working closely with dental professionals worldwide to contribute and collaborate in this highly innovative field.