Veteran Dental Care Faster Using 3D Technology - VHA SimLEARN
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Veteran Dental Care Faster Using 3D Technology

By David Adriansen
VISN 23 Simulation Program Director
Minneapolis VA Health Care System

MINNEAPOLIS – Army Veteran Mark Gehrke had been missing his teeth for years, and his upper jaw had significant bone problems. His dentist, Dr. Christopher French, an oral surgeon at the VA medical center in Minneapolis created a 3D printed model of his upper jaw to plan the surgical placement of four dental implants, using the model as a guide to plan the placement of the implants.

For this, Gehrke was thankful. “I appreciate getting the best care possible,” he said.

3D technology helps create guides for dental implant placement and medical models which aid in surgical planning. A digital capture is transferred to a 3D printer or dental mill to create the dental surgical guides or other products needed to support Veteran patient care.

In 2018, there were over 600 patients needing surgical guides and 185 patients needing intra-oral occlusion guides at the Minneapolis VA.

Currently, Veterans travel to and from many VA dental clinics with waiting times up to six weeks for oral surgery and dental appliances primarily due to turn-around times from outsource vendors. Access and care are improved when VA dental clinics can create dental appliances in-house with faster service for Veterans.

Cast costs down from $50 to $5

The addition of a 3D printer enables the adoption of a more efficient in-house process to produce dental arch casts impacting 3,000 patients annually. A cast made using plaster costs $50 each or $150,000 annually.  With a dental 3D printer, the “cast” is made directly from the intra-oral scan at a cost of $5 each or $15,000 annually.

The Veterans Integrated Service Network 23 VISN Dental 3D Scanning, Printing and Milling Project is placing oral 3D scanners in each VA dental clinic for dentists to scan Veteran teeth for use in milling or 3D modeling. Currently, all 11 Dental Clinics within VISN 23 outsource for dental bridges, crowns, night guards and dental appliances.

The Minneapolis VA Dental Clinic has been using 3D printers and intra-oral scanners to improve patient outcomes and increase efficiency in Veteran care.

Dr. Kirby Amonson, VISN 23 dental lead, said, “With this initiative, the VA Midwest Region will become the first VA network to convert operations from wet cast molding to digital dentistry and minimize or eliminate the outsourcing of crowns, bridges, night guards and other services for our Veterans.”

Saving time and increasing satisfaction

“Use of 3D printing is a significant movement within VA for improving Veteran patient care through reducing clinical and surgical times, while increasing Veteran satisfaction,” according to Dr. Thomas Girvan, chief, VA central dental laboratory in Dallas, Texas.

Dr. Beth Ripley, chair, VHA 3D Printing Advisory Council, is driving the national vision on centralizing 3D technology efforts within VHA. Multiple VA facilities have been active in using 3D printers for research, prosthetics and pre-surgical modeling.

Ripley noted, “One of the immediate impacts on improving clinical care and operations via 3D technology is in the dental service. The VISN 23 Digital Dentistry Initiative establishes a model within VHA for dental clinics transitioning to oral 3D scanning and printing. Because of this transition, VISN 23 will also be the first Network to host a 3D printer in each of their VA hospitals.”