College Student 3D Prints Cheap DIY Retainers to Fix His Crooked Teeth

Amos Dudley successfully straightened out his crooked teeth by 3D printing a set of retainers. The before and after photos are unbelievable.
Kathleen Villaluz
Source: Amos Dudley

3D printing products are making a loud buzz in the manufacturing industries as they try to eradicate laborious and manual production processes and digitize the way we manufacture things.

As 3D printers are becoming easily available to the general public, more innovative and ingenious ways of using them are starting to emerge.

Take Amos Dudley for example, as he used a 3D printer to produce a series of retainers in order straighten out his slightly crooked teeth.

Amos Dudley, an undergraduate student from the New Jersey Institute of Technology, made his own orthodontic aligners, or retainers, using a 3D printer to improve his smile.

Dudley's teeth were already fixed when he was younger by braces, however, after failing to wear his retainer like one is supposed to, his teeth eventually rearranged themselves back to being crooked. He explained why he didn't seek professional help to straighten out his teeth again.

"At the time of writing this, I’m an undergrad, which means that a) I’m broke, and b) I have access to expensive digital fabrication tools - definitely an unusual dichotomy. What is to stop someone, who has access to a 3D printer, from making their own orthodontic aligners"?

How Dudley DIY-ed his retainers

First and foremost, Dudley took a mold of his teeth using inexpensive alginate powder, Permastone, and a 3D printed impression tray.

Focus your attention on the LI-r and CI-r at the very front, notice how the LI-r is protruding outward and the CI-r is overlapping inwardly.

teeth mold showing an overlapping front tooth
Source: Amos Dudley

After researching how professional orthodontists produce an exact and bespoke set of retainers, Dudley came to an epiphany that he already has the tools he needs to make his own.

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What exactly do you need to print your own retainer then?

Dudley's simple list consists of a 3D scanner, CAD software, a high-resolution 3D printer, retainer material, a vacuum forming machine, the teeth mold, and of course, basic knowledge of orthodontics.

When he obtained his teeth mold, Dudley took a scaled laser scan of the teeth model using reference points.

designing a 3D printed retainer
Source: Amos Dudley

Perhaps the coolest step in the process of 3D printing your own retainer is animating the sequence of how your teeth would be straightened out, and Dudley said this wasn't difficult to do at all.

"Creating the animation was also fairly trivial- I separated the visible crowns of the teeth from the gum line, and then made a manifold model from each of the shells. I didn’t bother adjusting the geometry of the gums- they are soft. Then it was just a matter of animating them into their correct positions. I measured the total distance of travel and divided it by the maximum recommended distance a tooth can travel per aligner. Each frame of animation was baked into a new STL model".

Different stages of teeth molds for 3D printing retainers
Source: Amos Dudley

The aligner steps were then printed out where the actual plastic retainers will be vacuum formed. Dudley took extra care of filing the edges of the retainers so they won't irritate his gums. And finally, after wearing all of the evolving retainers, Dudley's teeth were straightened out and looked as if the job was done professionally.

Here are the before and after photos for hard evidence:

Dudley's crooked front teeth
Source: Amos Dudley
Dudley with his straightened out teeth
Source: Amos Dudley

The biggest success of this DIY retainer is that it only applied pressure on the two front teeth that required shifting.

"I was pleased to find, when I put the first one on, that it only seemed to put any noticeable pressure on the teeth that I planned to move- a success", said Dudley.

Despite the success of Dudley's endeavor to fix his own teeth's alignment, he was firm in stating that he will not attempt to start an orthodontics business.

"I won't be making retainers/aligners for people (even if you offer money). I've thought about the possibility and decided it's not a good idea for a large number of reasons. Sorry"!

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