Guns may grab the headlines, but 3D printing has other uses other than producing weapons. One growth area for the technology is digital dentistry, where dentists use 3D printers to produce models, dentures, braces, and implants, while foregoing the gooey pastes and gels that are traditionally used to make them.

One of the earliest adopters of digital dentistry was 3D printing giant Stratasys, which in 2012 merged with Israel’s Objet 3D, another major manufacturer of 3D printers. Both companies had already developed printers geared to the dental market, and after the merger, Stratasys headquartered its digital dentistry division in Israel.

Since then, the Israeli lab has been producing new products to enable dentists to take advantage of 3D printing techniques — the latest being a material called Veroglaze, which can be used to print crowns, bridge restorations, diagnostic wax-ups, and other tooth-related objects.

Producing plates, veneers, dentures, implants and the like is custom work; no two mouths are the same, as experienced dentists are wont to say. Traditionally, dentists have used impression plates filled with silicone, sodium alginate or polyether to make models. The patient bites down on the material and leaves “teeth marks,” the starting point for building the needed object. Corrections are made based on the dentist’s observations and drilling — both of the item when it comes from the lab, and possibly of the teeth — in order to find the right fit.

In digital dentistry, dentists forgo physical impressions and use intra-oral scanners, which provide a full view of the anatomy of the mouth, jaws and teeth, and allow labs to build precise models that fit right on the first try. Most of the scanners are compatible with 3D printers, said Stratasys’ Director of Global Dental, Avi Cohen. Even for simple record keeping, he said, scanners make sense. Orthodontists, for example, “keep the original (or ’before’) impressions for each patient for several years — five to nine, depending on location. For orthodontic practices of any size, this can create a huge storage problem since all those physical models need a home,” said Cohen.

“But with digital files, they are stored electronically and models can be 3D printed on demand if necessary.” The next logical step, he added, would be popping the digital file into a 3D printer, and producing the right-sized object that the dentist can insert into the patient’s mouth.

The advantage of Veroglaze, Stratasys said, is that it is not only a sturdy polymer material suitable for all tooth needs, but is colored with the key A2 teeth color shade — the ivory “white” shade made famous by generations of toothpaste and mouthwash ads. Veroglaze, said Cohen, is Stratasys’ “first step towards 3D printing teeth color models with remarkable color matching of the A2 color shade.”

The Veroglaze announcement corresponded to the announcement by Stratasys of its new Objet Eden260V Dental Advantage 3D printer, which the company is billing as “an easy-to-use product providing access to digital dentistry technology at a low cost.” The 260V, the company said, “is designed for dental labs that need faster treatment times and an enhanced profit model,” saving time and money by doing less corrective work, and enhancing shipping times for objects sent out from the lab.

In fact, it might even make sense for a dental group, where various specialists — orthodontists, periodontists, etc. — all work together. At $80,000 or so — the list price of the printer — it’s probably not for independent family dentists, but as prices continue to go down on professional 3D printers, there may come a time when the printers are common in dentist’s offices.

“Stratasys continues to make digital dentistry happen and is fully committed to this market,” said Cohen. “The Objet Eden 260V Dental Advantage 3D printer is a cost-effective solution package that is designed to increase productivity and turnaround times while delivering precision prototypes and production parts.”