The billion-dollar smile business relies on 3D printing technology.

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3D printing has completely transformed the world of manufacturing, and one industry that has seen significant disruption is dental aligners. Invisalign, the market leader in clear aligners, owes much of its success to 3D printing technology. This technology has revolutionized the production of individualized dental products on a mass scale. One company that has capitalized on this trend is SecretAligner, a start-up founded by orthodontist Pablo Kehyaian.

Kehyaian, based in Madrid, Spain, was dissatisfied with the leading clear aligner options available in the market. He wanted more control over his treatments and the ability to try out different approaches. Surprisingly, the cost of entry into the aligner business was relatively low. With a professional 3D printer priced at around $3,500, Kehyaian started making his own aligners for his colleagues and friends. In 2019, he officially founded SecretAligner and within just five years, the company had grown to an 85-person operation, 3D printing 2,000 models per day for customers in Spain, France, and Portugal. The company has plans to expand to the U.S.

It’s important to note that dental aligners themselves are not 3D printed. Instead, it’s the model of the patient’s teeth that is printed using 3D technology. Dentists and orthodontists use software to plan the movement of the teeth and generate a series of 3D models representing the different stages of treatment. The plastic aligners are then thermoformed around these models.

The advancement in dental software and the ease of use of 3D printers have made it possible for companies like SecretAligner to enter the market. Despite Kehyaian’s lack of previous experience with 3D printers, his collaboration with Formlabs, a leading manufacturer of 3D printers, has played a crucial role in the accelerated growth of SecretAligner. Kehyaian credits Formlabs’ printers and training for enabling his company to scale rapidly. Formlabs, based in Somerville, Mass., understood early on that simply offering a 3D printer wouldn’t be enough to drive industry-wide transformation. They recognized the need for support and a deep understanding of how their printers are used. Consequently, Formlabs has assembled a dental division staffed by a team of dental professionals, including dentists and dental lab technicians.

In 2023, Formlabs launched the Form Auto, an automated system that removes finished parts from the printer and starts the next print. SecretAligner was one of the first companies to adopt Formlabs’ new Automation Ecosystem, which combines software and hardware to streamline the printing process. The software component keeps track of which dental models are being printed, while the hardware automatically removes the models from the printer and deposits them in a collection bin, allowing for immediate start of a new print job. This automation has significantly reduced labor costs for SecretAligner, and the company can now 3D print overnight and on weekends without direct supervision.

While aligners have gained popularity, there is still a significant market for traditional braces, especially for teenagers. LightForce, another start-up, has identified an opportunity to use 3D printing to revolutionize the way braces are made. The current practice of using stock brackets and bending wires by sight with pliers has remained relatively unchanged for decades. LightForce aims to disrupt this market by customizing braces using 3D printed ceramic brackets. Each bracket is tailored to the shape and orientation of an individual tooth.

The impact of 3D printing on the dental industry is profound. With the ability to create personalized aligners and custom braces, patients can expect more precise and effective treatments. The technology has also opened doors for new entrants like SecretAligner and LightForce to challenge established players. The future of the dental industry is undoubtedly shaped by 3D printing, and we are only scratching the surface of its potential.

The world of orthodontics is undergoing a revolution thanks to advancements in 3D printing technology. Two companies, LightForce and SecretAligner, are leading the charge and transforming the way braces and aligners are made and used.

Let’s start with LightForce, a company that specializes in 3D printed ceramic brackets customized to fit each individual tooth. Using a dental 3D scan, the brackets are optimized for placement with software, ensuring a perfect fit. Patients who use LightForce braces report increased comfort and a shorter treatment time. In fact, a recent study found that users of LightForce had an average treatment time 45% shorter than users of conventional braces and had 41% fewer office visits.

One of the key advantages of LightForce braces is the application tray in which the braces come loaded. Unlike traditional braces that require the orthodontist to fit each individual bracket, LightForce braces can be easily installed by a trained assistant. This means that orthodontists can now spend more time on diagnosis and treatment planning, rather than on the labor-intensive process of installing braces.

LightForce has quickly gained popularity among orthodontists, with 10% of practitioners in North America now using their customized brackets. The company recently raised $80 million in funding, making them the world’s largest manufacturer of directly 3D-printed functional medical devices by volume.

Despite the advanced technology and custom manufacturing process, LightForce braces don’t necessarily cost more for patients. Many orthodontists don’t charge extra for these braces, and some even charge less, knowing that they will have to see the patient less frequently due to the shortened treatment time.

On the other hand, SecretAligner is taking a different approach to the clear aligner market. This company envisions a future where aligners can be 3D printed directly, eliminating the need for mold-making. Their CEO, Kehyaian, believes that as 3D printing materials advance, practitioners will be able to 3D print aligners in-office and on-demand. This would not only streamline the production process but also reduce waste, as printed aligners that are discarded due to changes in the treatment plan would no longer be necessary.

Both LightForce and SecretAligner are successful in a market that has been transformed by patient-specific manufacturing at a mass scale, made possible only through 3D printing technology. As this technology continues to evolve and improve, we can expect even more exciting innovations in the field of orthodontics in the future. It’s clear that 3D printing has opened up a world of possibilities, and the benefits for patients and practitioners alike are undeniable.

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