Did you know that Star Trek-like technology has been part of professional dentistry for years? Various forms of 3D printing, an analogy to 2D copy-machine printing, have been developed to quickly and accurately produce either molds for casting or actual metal forms that serve as the base (coping) of a dental crown.
Both versions start with a dental lab taking a digital scan of a patient’s plaster model (though even that is changing as some dentists/orthodontists do direct oral scanning). This information is translated into a 3D computer model of the tooth or teeth in question. The models are useful themselves as replacements for heavy plaster versions; even more interesting, the data in each model can be used to guide the motions of equipment that “builds” a part layer by layer, either out of wax for casting or out of the final metal, usually a chrome-cobalt alloy. (More about these technologies in upcoming blog posts.)