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College Student Uses 3-D Printer To Fix His Crooked Teeth


And now we turn from the lab to a lone inventor. In New Jersey, a college student decided that he was tired of his crooked teeth. So he fixed them all by himself using a 3-D printer and some other digital fabrication tools. Jon Kalish reports.

JON KALISH, BYLINE: Twenty-four-year-old Amos Dudley is about to graduate with a degree in digital design. He's a self-described hard-core geek with a passion for 3-D printing. So it was this technology he turned to when he decided he wanted to straighten his teeth.

That's the sound of a 3-D printer at the New Jersey Institute of Technology where Dudley is a student. Dudley had the idea to make a series of dental devices known as aligners using one of the 3-D printers at the college. After consulting a couple of orthodontics texts, he got started. First, he took some old school impressions of his teeth with a putty-like material he bought online.

AMOS DUDLEY: I pretty much read the instructions on the back of the bag.

KALISH: Then he got seriously high-tech. Dudley used a laser scanner to turn the plaster model he'd made into a digital replica. He used 3-D modeling software and mathematical calculations to figure out how to move his problematic teeth into place. Finally, he made a dozen aligners by melting thin sheets of plastic over the 3-D models of his teeth.

DUDLEY: I basically would wear them between one and three weeks each. I sort of knew to stop wearing a retainer when they no longer felt like they were exerting pressure on my teeth.

KALISH: How do orthodontists feel about this?

RICHARD BLOOMSTEIN: I was both shocked and impressed.

KALISH: Richard Bloomstein is a professor of orthodontics at Rutgers Dental School.

BLOOMSTEIN: Did it work as well as an orthodontist might have done it? Maybe.

KALISH: But Dr. Bloomstein says the outcome of this amateur orthodontics may have been different if there was decay or bone disease near the teeth Dudley was manipulating.

BLOOMSTEIN: Certain things are not a bargain even if they're cheaper. I would not look for bargains in parachutes, likewise bargains in health care.

KALISH: But traditional orthodontic care is expensive, often thousands of dollars, a reason online services that don't require office visits seem to be gaining popularity. A quick Internet search turned up two companies that offer budget dental aligners. Patients need only to send in impressions and smartphone photos of their teeth. Dudley didn't realize he tapped into a market, but he's pretty happy with the way things have turned out.

DUDLEY: I had no idea if this was going to work. It probably only worked in a large part because of luck and good initial conditions. But if there's an idea you have, you just have to try it out. I mean, I had the idea, and I went with it so the outcome was sort of the best I could hope for, I guess.

KALISH: Dudley says he's received hundreds of requests to make dental aligners and one suggestion from an orthodontist that they go into business together. But he says he has no interest in any of that. Instead, he's going to work for a 3-D printer manufacturer. The company offered him a job after hearing of his dental handiwork. For NPR News, I'm Jon Kalish in New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Manhattan-based radio reporter Jon Kalish has reported for NPR since 1980. Links to radio documentaries, podcasts & stories on NPR are at Find him on Twitter: @kalishjon