FARGO - Cameron Kiser took a tumble and landed face first on asphalt. The landing was painful, causing his entire face to throb. A few moments later, he discovered it was also damaging: His two front teeth were broken.
The accident happened while Kiser was visiting friends in Grand Forks on a Friday night. The next day, back in Fargo, he made an emergency appointment to see his dentist.
“I wanted to get it fixed as soon as possible,” he said. “It was very sensitive.”
The dentist, Austin Vetter, was able to put a coating over the jagged surface where the teeth had broken to protect the nerve endings. The repair alleviated most of Kiser’s pain.
But Kiser still had broken teeth, leaving him with the smile of a hockey player in the era before face masks.
Because Kiser’s dental emergency happened on the weekend, Vetter was unable to have a dental lab provide the model he would need to fashion a repair. But he didn’t want his patient to have to go with a chipped smile over the Thanksgiving holiday.
Then Vetter had an idea.
He took to Facebook and posted a message with the Fargo 3D Printing Meetup group, explaining that he was looking for someone who could use the three-dimensional electronic scan he made of Kiser’s mouth to print a 3D model that could be used to help reconstruct the broken teeth.
Marcus Moldaschel, a member of the group, saw the notice and responded to Vetter’s request.
“If I can help this dentist and he can incorporate 3D printing, that’s only good for the community,” Moldaschel said, recalling his reaction.
Not long after deciding to help out with the dental emergency, Moldaschel got a surprise. He got a Snapchat message from his friend informing him that he broke his two front teeth in a fall.
Wait, Moldaschel wondered, is his friend the person he’s trying to help with his 3D printer? Short answer: yes.
“We’re like best friends, which makes this crazy that this happened.” Moldaschel said.
A mechanical engineering student at North Dakota State University, Moldaschel works at Fargo 3D Printing Repair, where he keeps a 3D printer that he designed and made himself. Via Facebook message, Vetter sent his scan of Kiser’s upper teeth to Moldaschel, who loaded it into his 3D printer.
The 3D printer is fed by a spool of black plastic, a polymer made from corn, that was heated and molded by a nozzle to form a model of Kiser’s teeth, restored to their original shape by Vetter’s scan.
In a little more than two hours, Moldaschel’s printer had produced a plastic model of Vetter’s complete upper teeth, which Vetter used to make a mold to restore Kiser’s two broken front teeth.
“Usually you have to kind of freehand these things,” Vetter said. “I would say it’s analogous to drawing. When you can trace a drawing it’s much easier.”
Vetter, who runs Vetter Dental in Fargo, believes 3D printers will become common in dental offices in the years ahead.
Some dental offices have them now. “I’d like to 3D print the teeth actually,” Vetter said, “but it’s not 100 percent there yet.”
The 3D printers made for dentists cost $5,000 and the technology is rapidly advancing, so Vetter will wait to take the plunge. The potential applications for 3D printing in dentistry, in fact, led Vetter to join the Fargo 3D Printing Meetup group.
“I knew that dentistry was slowly being infiltrated by the technology,” he said.
Kiser will make return visits for Vetter to monitor his restored teeth. In about a year, the dentist will make crowns to permanently repair the two broken teeth.
But Moldaschel quipped to his friend that Kiser’s new teeth enabled by his 3D model will endure.
“I was joking with him that now I’ll be with you forever,” Moldaschel said.