Rik Jacobs, vice president, general manager of dental solutions at 3D Systems

Rik Jacobs leads 3D Systems’ dental team as vice president, general manager of dental solutions. In addition to decades of experience in the dental industry, Rik gained considerable insights into the dental market through co-founding and leading NextDent, an innovative dental materials company with a broad portfolio of 3D printable material options that was acquired by 3D Systems in January 2017.

Discover the latest advancements in digital dentistry from 3D Systems.

In this interview, Rik shares his thoughts on the current state of the dental market, opportunities he sees for continued advancement using additive technologies in the dental profession, and key impact areas of digital dentistry for both practitioners and patients.

How long have digital technologies been part of the dental workflow, and what is driving their adoption?

Rik Jacobs: For more than a decade, computing technologies and digital formats have become a pervasive part of modern life, and the dental profession is no exception.

Dental professionals have been watching and evaluating 3D technologies over the years and understand that they offer compelling benefits in terms of time and cost efficiency, better accuracy over conventional methods, and high predictability of results. For instance, intraoral digital scanning has made collecting patient data faster, more accurate and more comfortable than it has been historically. In my view, the acceptance of milling as a dental industry standard has paved the way for 3D printed solutions, which also rely on 3D data, but are faster and more cost effective by comparison.

To me, access to 3D printable materials that are safe for in-mouth use was the next critical step to drive the adoption of additive in dentistry. This material component was the core focus of my company NextDent, which developed a broad portfolio of certified materials to address a large number of dental application categories. Since our acquisition by 3D Systems, we have combined our leading dental materials expertise with 3D Systems' prowess in additive production technologies. Now, as we combine NextDent materials with 3D Systems’ Figure 4 technology, we are making fast and reliable end-use production possible, and providing a capable and compelling alternative to milling.

I think that when you can make more effective use of everyone’s time and money, you are doing something right; that’s why 3D technologies are taking hold.

Together, NextDent materials and 3D Systems’ Figure 4 technology provide a capable and compelling alternative to milling, says Jacobs.

What are some of the traditional hurdles to introducing a new process in dental?

RJ: Introducing a new process requires investments in equipment, time, and training. To compel anyone in the dental market to transition into a new way of operation requires convincing them that the return on these investments will be worthwhile. Once this threshold is met, it is a matter of implementing the desired changes.

Bringing additive manufacturing into the dental field requires a few things to make this transition as painless as possible:

  • Universality of application. Intraoral scanning meets this requirement, as the same 3D scanner can be used across patients. The same can be said of 3D printing when the machine in question is compatible with a broad range of materials certified for in-mouth use that can address a variety of indications.

    Across additive manufacturing, materials tend to be the largest stumbling block for adoption. Fortunately for dentistry, NextDent materials by 3D Systems address a broad range of dental needs and are the outcome of extensive and ongoing work with dental professionals and labs.

  • Simplicity of implementation. A solution must be as plug-and-play as possible to alleviate the burden of staff/operator training. With Figure 4 we have kept this concept top of mind and operation is only getting easier as we continue to receive and implement feedback to improve the user experience.
  • Automation of processes. This is closely related to ease-of-use and is important to ensure efficiency in a clinic or lab production setting. Software and hardware must work together well and reliably with a trusted connection in order for a new process to contribute to a business operation, rather than detract from it.
  • Acceptance in the field. If you look at the innovation adoption lifecycle curve, there are always innovators and early adopters who pave the way for the majority. For adoption to take off, a new technology or process must continue to gain clinical acceptance. We have come a long way in formulating and passing our materials for use in the mouth, and I believe the quality and capabilities that are achievable will accelerate as we shift from early adoption to early majority.

What does a digital approach mean for the patient?

RJ: The patients’ best interests are at the forefront of what we do, and all our customers are equally passionate about delivering quality to those receiving treatment. From the patient’s perspective, a digital dentistry approach means less waiting time, better fit, and faster attention. With an additive manufactured dental solution, less time is required to produce orthodontic and prosthodontic devices, which means the patient can be treated faster, with fewer office visits, and with a final in-mouth device that was generated to precisely match personal 3D scan data. In addition to the better fit and accuracy, certain dental application categories can even be offered more affordably.

What is your vision for digital dentistry moving forward?

RJ: It is my hope and vision that by continuing to introduce more efficient and effective digital technologies to the dental profession, we can shift perspectives and experiences so both practitioners and patients get greater satisfaction from delivering and receiving treatment. The ultimate goal here is to improve oral care.

Learn more about 3D Systems' newest offering for digital dentistry, the NextDent 5100.