In 2019, SmileDirectClub partnered with HP to create clear aligners for teeth straightening. Since that time, SmileDirectClub has opened the Smile House, which contains 60 of the latest HP Multi Jet Fusion 3D Printers, changing orthodontia forever.
With these printers, SmileDirectClub is able to mass produce completely personalized molds used to create plastic aligners, one of the most advanced and affordable ways to straighten teeth.
The orthodontics industry is worth billions in the United States. SmileDirectClub has already massively disrupted the 120-year-old industry by creating affordable and convenient access to orthodontic care. Now they are taking their mission further.
Why orthodontic care is so important
Studies have shown that while many Americans are in need of orthodontic care, only a small percentage actually receive it. A large factor in this is cost. Braces, the orthodontic treatment that is most common, can cost from $5,000 to $8,000. SmileDirectClub is able to provide an alternative method for straightening teeth at less than half the cost—just $1,950.
Another factor preventing Americans from receiving orthodontic care is lack of access. At least 60% of counties in this country lack an orthodontist entirely. Because SmileDirectClub offers three different and convenient ways to access their treatment, it is available to a much wider segment of the population.
New customers can begin treatment by making an appointment for a 3D scan at one of SmileDirectClub’s SmileShops, or they can do so at an affiliate dentist or orthodontist’s office in the network. If this is unavailable to them or inconvenient, customers also have an option of taking a mold of their teeth right from home, and sending it back to SmileDirectClub, completing the whole process from the convenience of their home!
How 3D printing changes the game
3D printing does a lot for SmileDirectClub in helping them to achieve their mission of bringing affordable and convenient orthodontic care to many. The 3D printers allow for highly personalized items to be mass-produced, and streamlines the process of carefully shaping molds to individual patient’s teeth.
As Brandon Ribic, the Technology Director of America Makes, explains, “It’s tailored to the shape of your teeth, the location of your teeth in your mouth, and how it conforms to all those curves and crevices and angles.”
With plans to make over 6.7 million molds by the end of the year with 3D printers, SmileDirectClub is certainly shaking things up, and there are already plans for expanding. The partnership has plans to grow into a new facility in Columbia, Tennessee with the same production capacities as the current factory: 40,000 aligners per day.
How does printing 3D work to make aligners?
Once a patient has their 3D image taken, a personalized treatment plan is created and reviewed by a dental professional. These individualized plans are sent to the factory where the printers are used to create molds that are precisely fitted to each individual.
The plans are translated into voxels. These are like the 3D equivalent of pixels. These voxels are what instruct the 3D printer in the pattern to create the mold. The molds are made out of a substance called Nylon 12, which is industrial strength but only 0.003 inches thick. This allows for perfect precision in the shaping of each curve and contour.
These molds are then used to create aligners. Each SmileDirectClub patient will go through about 12-18 aligners on average during the course of their treatment, and the 3D printing is the most convenient and cost effective way to create them.
What additional advantage does 3d printing have?
In addition to helping SmileDirectClub provide more affordable and convenient orthodontic care, 3D printing has a major advantage over other methods of providing orthodontic care: it is much more environmentally sustainable.
3D printing allows for items to be printed locally. The data files can be sent from anywhere and then printed close to the patient, minimizing the need for shipping and reducing the supply chain. Additionally, 3D printing happens entirely on demand. This means that unlike regularly mass produced items, only what is needed is made, and there is no surplus that goes to waste.
There is also a great deal of recycling. All of the used molds are then returned to HP where they are chopped into pellets and reused, mainly by the automotive industry. And the aligners themselves are recyclable in some home recycling programs.
New opportunities for collaboration
The partnership between HP and SmileDirectClub hasn’t ended in the world of orthodontics. When there was a shortfall of protective face shields early in the pandemic, SmileDirectClub pivoted to turning their supply of 3D printers into face shield producers. They were only able to do so with the help of HP which provided the print files and design options.
SmileDirectClub’s clear plastic aligner treatment has already changed how people straighten their teeth, reducing what used to be a two year process into one that is 4-610 months, and at up to half the cost and a great deal more convenience. Now with 3D printing, HP is helping SmileDirectClub reach even more people with their innovative treatment, and doing so in a way that is environmentally sustainable.