If you or your kids have ever worn braces, you know how frustrating and costly it can be to lose a retainer.  New three dimensional technology is saving you not only a trip to the orthodontist’s office, but money too.  Warrenton orthodontic specialist Dr Robert Miller has heard just about every excuse for losing a retainer, in fact he has a storybook in his office patients can read entitled “How I Lost My Retainer”.  Dr. Miller says the common ones are, “The dog eats them. They wear out. One thing for sure, after 30 years, Dr Miller has heard every story imaginable!   It’s really helpful to have a back-up but that gets expensive”.  The better solution is to fabricate a model that you can make several retainers from.  You’ve probably put the goo in your mouth and waited for it to harden to make a mold.  Then it was sent by snail mail and 1-2 weeks later, your retainer would be ready.  Three-D technology is changing all that.  Dr. Miller explained, “That process saves them the need to go in the office and have the goo put in your mouth again for the impression.

Digital inter-oral scanning

So The scanning process literally saves time, effort and money on everyone’s part.”  A light wand scans the patient’s teeth in minutes.  Hours later, a 3D printer creates a plastic model of their teeth, unlike the old plaster molds that could only be used once.

Extreme Clear Retainer

Dr. Miller added, “So with this hard plastic 3D printed model, we’re able to make multiple different retainers over several years. So the patient will simply keep this (model) and they can continue to have a retainer made and we’re able to do this at half price because we don’t have to do the first half of the work.” Both Dr Millers have used the Itero™ scanner which was the first intraoral scanner approved to be used with Invisalign™, however they recently began using the 3M true definition™ scanner which is smaller and more accurate.

Different sizes of inter-oral digital scanners

It’s not just for retainers either.  In addition to other types of orthodontic appliances, Dr. Miller said, “Dentists are using them to create crowns and special restorations of teeth and the doctors able to send this to any laboratory in the world that has this technology on the other end.” Here is an example where, after a restorative dentist prepares a tooth for a crown (cap) they then scan the tooth and fabricates a crown using a milling machine for improved accuracy and precision.

3D restoration of tooth

Dr. Miller said more specialists are using 3D printing technology, so hopefully you won’t have to panic the next time you lose that retainer while on vacation. Ultimately, the patient benefits most when technology reduces costs since this level of precision and accuracy can be created with less human variability!  We would like to believe if we added more human steps we can produce better appliances, dental devices.  Now we can produce a plastic model from a digital scanner, and fabricate a better fitting retainer numerous times reducing costs!