By the end of next year, patients who need dental crown or bridge treatment may be able to get it done within a shorter time, at a lower cost and with higher accuracy.
A new 3D technology developed by Temasek Polytechnic can be used to create a method of manufacturing dental crowns and bridges that cuts production time from several days to just hours.
Dental crowns are replacement teeth made to match a patient's natural teeth, while bridges are fixed dentures.
Dr Sun Lingling, manager of Temasek's microelectronics centre, said: "What used to take three to seven days via traditional and manpower-heavy processes can now be done in four hours. When patients go for a dental crown, they can get it within the same day, rather than wait days or even weeks."
Dr Zhang Guangyu, who led the research team, said the new method also reduces manufacturing cost. For example, each crown costs $13 to $14 to make, compared with between $20 and $40 using the traditional method.
The fit of a crown will also be more accurate as the technology narrows the margin for human error, said Dr Zhang. This will reduce the amount of grinding that has to be done to the teeth before fitting the crown.
During a consultation, a patient gets fitted for an impression, which the dentist turns into a form. The laboratory will scan the form using a 3D scanner and create two sets of data - one for the interior and the other for the exterior. The data will be used to create a mould to shape the exterior, and an internal metal form which will be attached to the damaged tooth.
The team, which started the project in January, is working on using a 3D scanner to scan the teeth directly. They are also in the process of reaching out to hospitals and clinics, and hope to see their product distributed commercially by the end of next year.
Some dentists have welcomed the technology, but they say quality and accuracy must not be compromised.
Caring Dental clinical director Christopher Tan said at his clinic, patients request dental crown and bridge consultations on a daily basis. He said while it is possible for same-day fabrications to be made, laboratories generally take on average a week or two to deliver.
"It will be good to have (the technology) for reduction in treatment costs and timing, but it would have to be trialled in terms of quality and accuracy," he said.