We have witnessed major breakthroughs in dental technologies in the last two decades, including in intraoral scanning, processing power, 3D graphics and 3D printing. Such technological advancements have been forming the base for in-house aligner production.
Almost 20 years have passed since the first commercial launch of corrective orthodontic aligners. Back in the early 2000s, aligners were originally greeted with much skepticism and doubt. A great deal of clinical work, product improvements and marketing efforts were needed to convince the dental community that this method is here to stay. Today, in many cases, aligners have become the preferred treatment option for dentists and patients alike.
In the early days, the manufacturing of aligners began from physical impressions which needed to be shipped from the dental office to a processing center. Computing power was limited and treatment planning had to be carried out by dedicated design centers. In addition, 3D printers were costly, bulky and complex to support, which meant that only companies could accommodate and maintain such units.
The first major development in this arena happened around 2011-2013, with the introduction of the first intraoral scanners. For the first time, there was no longer a need to ship impressions, empowering doctors from all over the world to offer aligner therapy in their practices.
Along with the reduction in shipping costs and the increased accuracy of intraoral scans versus conventional impressions, intraoral scanners like the Medit i500 have truly helped in boosting the usage of aligners. From the customer’s point of view, key benefits include fewer rejected impressions due to better accuracy and reduced turnaround time.
Recently, supported by the launch of more affordable and accurate plug-and-play desktop printers, designing aligners in-house has become more widespread with the introduction of per-case aligner design services such as eXceed.
Taken together, these new scanning, planning and printing technologies have opened the doors for the in-house production of aligners. The process normally follows the same routine as with the full-service providers, with the only exception being that after aligner plan approval, the trays are manufactured in-house.
In-office or in-lab aligners manufacturing offers some advantages:
By adopting an in-office approach to aligners production, lab bills can be reduced. This means more competitive aligner pricing for consumers.
With back-and-forth shipping no longer necessary, first aligners for any given treatment could be seated within a few days after the process of taking the intraoral scans during an appointment. Less shipping also means that aligner production becomes more environmentally-friendly.
Damaged or Lost Aligners
Being a removable appliance, one of the key drawbacks in aligners lies in the fact that they can be easily lost or damaged. With the in-office approach, the dentist always has the production files available, allowing for new aligners to be re-fabricated quickly.
With the office or the lab now overseeing production, users can have more discretion and control over the process. This includes being able to use different foil thickness during the treatment (to exert more or less force), aligner trimming styles (flat or curvy), time to delivery and other factors.
Aligners as a finishing tool
The most time-consuming process for doctors during fixed-appliances therapy (braces) is the finishing stage, when the engaging wires need to be gently adjusted to bring the case to its successful conclusion. With the in-office approach, time can be saved on this process.
Considering these factors, as well as the aesthetic nature and predictability of aligner treatments, the in-office/in-lab approach to aligners’ production may be a suitable strategy for some clinics to ensure high-quality and affordable orthodontic corrections to patients.