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A Hampton dental clinic is 3D printing dentures, crowns for low-income patients

several dental molds are laid out on a table
Courtesy of Matthew Stearn
HELP, Inc.
Some of the dentures and crowns that were 3D printed at the HELP, Inc. dental clinic in Hampton.

Read the original story on WHRO's website.

More than two decades ago, nonprofit HELP Inc. opened a dental clinic in Hampton aimed at serving people without housing or access to insurance.

But the clinic has struggled to provide certain services that require expensive tooth replacements, said executive director Matthew Stearn. Crowns, for example, can cost up to $2,000, while dentures can reach $4,000.

That’s cost-prohibitive not only for patients to afford, but for the clinic to provide, Stearn said.

“We really were limited on the scope and quality of care that we could offer for restorative dental work,” he said. “For many of our patients … that means they’re going to go without those treatments that could really change their lives.”

Enter the 3D printer.

Stearn said a HELP Inc. board member owns one and recommended the clinic look into using the technology.

The printer speeds up the process of making products and cuts down on costly equipment associated with traditional manufacturing, according to the American Hospital Association, which added that 3D printing is “revolutionizing health care.”

Dental implants were one of the technology’s first medically approved uses, the association said.

The Hampton clinic did some research and eventually got about $100,000 in grants to purchase 3D printers and launch a new lab on site.

They started printing dentures, crowns and night guards made out of ceramic resin in September.

The clinic’s now able to offer dentures for less than $500 per set — a cost drop of nearly 90%. Night guards and crowns now cost about $110 and $225, respectively, based on a per-patient sliding scale.

Stearn said it takes only a few hours to 3D print one of the items, with a total turnaround time of a week or two for patients.

Having strong teeth is important for people’s health, he said, allowing them to chew things like fresh fruits and vegetables. But the benefits are psychological as well.

“Having a beautiful or fully intact smile is a game changer for a lot of people when it comes to self-confidence, when it comes to talking, when it comes to speech,” Stearn said. “There's so many things that our teeth are involved in.”