When Tae Kim bought his first 3-D printer nearly 10 years ago for $400,000, he was well ahead of the curve.
“Back then, 3-D printing was absolutely unknown,” said Kim, an associate professor of clinical dentistry at the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC.
Since then, Kim has dedicated his research to creating 3-D partial and complete dentures, which are more precise, comfortable and faster to make than traditional dentures.
“In the past, a patient would have to come to the clinic more than five times to get dentures,” Kim said. “This new technology allows us to deliver the final product in three visits.”
In addition, if a patient loses their dentures, Kim can access their digital file to reprint a replacement in a matter of days.
As the driving force behind last year’s introduction of 3-D printing into the school’s curriculum, Kim is excited to teach the next generation of dentists the new technology, which he believes will become a standard within the next decade as 3-D printers increase in quality and affordability.
Starting in their second year, dental students at USC learn how to use 3-D printers to make partial and complete dentures. The move has not only positioned their school as the first dental school to incorporate 3-D technology into its curriculum on a mass scale, but it has also sparked student interest toward prosthodontics in a way Kim has never seen before.
“Twenty years ago, when I taught the denture class, there wasn’t that much energy from my students,” Kim said. “If I had an extracurricular lecture series about 3-D technology, maybe 20 years ago I’d have 10 students show up. Now over 100 students will show up.”
Looking to the future, Kim hopes to contribute to USC’s highly regarded worldwide reputation through his teaching and research of 3-D prosthodontics.
“I’d like to continue that tradition so that we could lead this field of removable prosthodontics and teach other schools and dentists, so that eventually, it will benefit all patients who need that service,” he said.