Regain control over your practice: lower costs, eliminate supply-chain issues, and increase customization

Dr. Tom Shannon writes about how in-house 3D printing can help control costs, mitigate supply-chain issues, and innovate and customize your appliances.

Dr. Tom Shannon explains how in-house 3D-printed fixed appliances can help resolve common practice frustrations

At our core, orthodontists are innovative problem-solvers.

Think about it: Patients arrive at their initial visit, and we have a wide variety of treatment options for every imaginable clinical situation — you name it, we’ve seen it! Each patient requires his/her own unique combination, and the amazing challenge for orthodontists is looking at every mouth and figuring out how we can best utilize the tools and technology at our disposal to create the most functional and stable clinical outcomes.

But our love of problem-solving doesn’t end when the last patient goes home. As a busy orthodontist, I found myself with problems that wires and brackets couldn’t solve on their own — out-of-control variable costs, supply-chain problems, and the inability to innovate. These problems disrupted my practice, limited profit margins, and frustrated me and my staff members. I knew I wasn’t alone either — when we talked at conferences and networking events, I heard these same frustrations from other orthodontists.

On page 20 are some common frustrations of running an orthodontic practice and an explanation of how in-house 3D-printed fixed appliances can help you solve these issues while maximizing profits.

Powerful new 3D-printing software allows you to use your expertise as a practitioner, combined with the limitless customization of 3D printing.

Problem 1: out-of-control costs — how to maximize your profit margin

We all have our favorite products that we like to use — the company whose inventory we always have on hand. But as you know, keeping inventory in stock is incredibly expensive, and when buying bulk to maximize savings, we’re paying upfront for thousands of units of a product before we even use a single one. How many of us have drawers of inventory that will never get used and that might even get thrown away one day?

As orthodontists we routinely provide the best treatment for healthy and functional smiles, but as small business owners, we also need to be concerned about our bottom line. Profit margins in orthodontics can be thin, and new systems and products often reduce those margins even more. Many of the variable costs we are paying are rapidly increasing such as the cost to pay and retain good staff. Increasing our profit margins means exploring how we can reduce other costs such as the products we use.

I first fell in love with 3D printing when creating models for fabricating clear aligners. Purchasing our practice’s first 3D printer was a big investment, but it also became a powerful tool. I loved the ability to innovate at the click of a button at a very low cost –- pennies on the dollar for the printer’s resin. I began to wonder how else I could use this innovative tool, and how it could improve my practice in other ways.

We live in a time of fantastic innovation in our field, but this innovation almost always comes with a higher overhead for the doctor. I wanted to create something that offered innovation and cost savings for orthodontists, allowing them to serve their patients better while increasing their profit margins.

I leveraged my knowledge of clinical orthodontics and sought out engineers who understood fixed-appliance design and 3D printing to help create custom software that would allow me to fabricate my own appliances in-house using a standard 3D printer and resin. This allowed me to print my own inventory in-house for incredible savings — from one-tenth to one-third of the cost of traditional products — and keep it stocked. But cost is just one consideration.

Problem 2: supply-chain issues — cut out the middle people

Here’s another scenario: You have a patient scheduled for an after-school appointment at 3:30 p.m., but there’s a problem. The appliance you need to treat the patient hasn’t arrived. You’ve checked the tracking on it 10 times, and it hasn’t even budged. So, your staff will have to call and cancel the appointment, frustrating the patient and parent and creating scheduling headaches for your staff, who now have an open hour to fill and a packed schedule to try to reschedule them.

Sound familiar? It was a common situation for many of us even before the pandemic overwhelmed our supply chains. Many orthodontists have been left scrambling as their favorite supplier was located in a part of the world that was completely shut down by COVID-19, leaving them to find another way to get the inventory they desperately needed.

If you can create your own inventory in-house, your 3D printer solves the problem of always waiting on deliveries. As long as you keep track of which appliances you use most frequently, and will need in the coming weeks, you always have exactly what you want in stock — indefinitely.

In-house 3D printing completely eliminated the domino effect of not having the product I needed — no stressed staff, no frustrated patients, no convoluted schedule. It was a revolutionary fix for our practice!

By printing your own inventory, you also save on shipping costs and reduce your carbon footprint because in-house printed appliances don’t come with the excessive packaging of shipped products, meaning your office is cleaner and greener.

Problem 3: control — innovate and customize for better treatment outcomes

What’s your unique prescription? Because face it, we’re total nerds — and it’s the question we always ask when we meet another orthodontist. What tools do you like using and have consistently found to get the best outcome for your patients? For me, it’s .018 MBT with hooks on the 3’s, 4’s, and 5’s.

What if you could take these familiar and reliable tools and tweak them just a little bit? Combine different slot sizes and appliance architectures that could work more effectively together? Innovation at the push of a button without needing to carry higher levels of inventory.

Powerful new 3D-printing software allows you to use your expertise as a practitioner, combined with the limitless customization of 3D printing. It’s now easy to select the kind of bracket or other fixed appliance you want and customize it to your specifications, including size, slot type, slot size, prescription, hooks, type, prescription, and more, creating exactly what you like to use and what your patient requires.

The future is printed

I’m proud of the work I do every day with patients to improve their smiles, their oral function, and their quality of life. I’m sure you are too. And I’m equally proud of helping my fellow orthodontists to improve their practices and their bottom line while continuing to do the work they love. After all, as orthodontists we’re problem solvers, and I’m excited to continue working with other hardworking problem solvers in practices around the world to improve our profession for ourselves and our patients.

There are so many innovations besides 3D printing for the orthodontic office. Read Dr. Andrew Nalin’s journey to the digital office in “How digital dreams become a reality” at

Tom Shannon, DDS, MDS, is an early adopter of 3D printing. He has extensive experience in orthodontic simulation design, in-office application production, 3D-printed fixed appliances, and hybrid orthodontic treatments. A graduate of the University of Michigan and the University of Tennessee, Dr. Shannon is currently in private practice in southwest Michigan. He has published numerous papers on 3D printing and knows firsthand how it can revolutionize an orthodontic practice.  


Disclosure: Dr. Shannon is cofounder and Chief Clinical Officer of Braces On Demand™.

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