August 02, 2023

Introduction to In-office Production of Orthodontic Aligners: Definition, Applications, and Advantages

In recent years, the field of orthodontics has experienced a profound shift with the advent of advanced technologies. Traditional methods have paved the way for modern, efficient, and patient-centric approaches, one of which is the in-office production of orthodontic aligners. This article aims to explore the nuances of this emerging orthodontic practice, targeting primarily dental practitioners who are considering incorporating this innovative technique into their clinical arsenal. 

Orthodontics, as a discipline, extends far beyond the simple correction of malocclusion and occlusal discrepancies. It is a comprehensive domain that embraces function, aesthetics, and long-term oral health. In this broader perspective, orthodontic aligners have emerged as a powerful tool offering a seamless blend of function and aesthetics. Traditionally, the production of these aligners has been an outsourced process, involving commercial aligner companies. However, advancements in digital technology and 3D printing have unlocked the possibility of in-office aligner production, offering a gamut of benefits.

By adopting in-office production of orthodontic aligners, dental practitioners can have greater control over their patient's treatment trajectory, allowing for more responsive and flexible treatment planning. Moreover, it brings with it potential cost-efficiencies, reduced waiting times, and the prospect of enhanced patient satisfaction.

This article will serve as an introduction to the in-office production of orthodontic aligners, outlining its definition, practical applications, and inherent advantages. We invite our readers, primarily dental practitioners, to explore this promising avenue in the realm of orthodontic practice. Whether you're already practicing orthodontics or contemplating to extend your general practice into this specialized field, understanding the concept of in-office aligner production could open up new avenues of patient care and practice development.

Defining In-Office Production of Orthodontic Aligners

In-office production of orthodontic aligners represents a paradigm shift in orthodontic care delivery, where the fabrication of aligners is carried out within the confines of a dental practice rather than being outsourced to a commercial lab. It denotes an innovative practice that harnesses the capabilities of digital technology and 3D printing, giving practitioners full control over the treatment process from diagnosis and planning to aligner production and fitting.

Fundamentally, in-office aligner production involves a sequence of digital workflows. It commences with the digital capture of the patient's oral environment, primarily through intraoral scanning. This digital impression forms the basis for the virtual orthodontic setup, which is designed using sophisticated CAD (Computer-Aided Design) software. Once the setup is complete and the desired tooth movements are determined, each intermediate stage is translated into a virtual aligner model. These models are then brought to life through 3D printing technology, typically using biocompatible orthodontic resins, thereby transforming the virtual plan into physical, patient-ready aligners.

The journey from digital impression to physical aligner under the same roof brings with it an array of advantages. In-office aligner production provides unprecedented control over the entire orthodontic process, leading to improved customization, enhanced efficiency, and potentially greater patient satisfaction. As we venture further into this article, we will unravel the specific applications and advantages of in-office aligner production that make it an appealing option for modern dental practices.

The Process of In-Office Production

The in-office production of orthodontic aligners is underpinned by a series of digital workflows that seamlessly interlink to create a comprehensive, in-house orthodontic solution.

A. Digital Impressions

The process begins with the capture of digital impressions of the patient’s dentition using an intraoral scanner. This non-invasive procedure creates highly accurate three-dimensional models of the patient's teeth and soft tissues, which serve as the starting point for the aligner design process. The quality of the digital impression is paramount, as it directly influences the fit and effectiveness of the final aligner.

B. Virtual Orthodontic Setup

Next, the digital impressions are imported into specialized CAD software, where a virtual orthodontic setup is created. This setup involves the planned movements of each tooth to their ideal positions, following the principles of orthodontics. The clinician has complete control over the process, allowing for fine adjustments and customization based on individual patient needs.

C. Model Printing

Once the virtual setup is completed, the software generates a series of intermediate stages that represent each step of the tooth movement from the initial to the final position. For each stage, a corresponding 3D model is designed. The aligner models are then printed in-house using a 3D printer, typically with a biocompatible resin. This phase marries precision and technology, bringing the digital design to life in the form of physical models.

D. Aligner Fabrication

Once the 3D models of each aligner stage have been printed, the next pivotal phase in the in-office production process is aligner fabrication. This step involves creating a physical manifestation of the virtual models using a technique known as vacuum forming, coupled with the careful selection of aligner materials.

The choice of aligner material plays a crucial role in the performance, durability, and patient comfort of the final aligner. A range of materials are available for practitioners to choose from, each with its unique properties and cost implications. A popular choice among many providers is multilayer polyethylene terephthalate (PET) materials, such as Zendura FLX or CA PRO by Scheu Dental. These materials offer superior stress retention, clarity, and comfort, providing an optimal balance between force application and patient wearability.

For a more cost-effective option, practitioners may opt for single-layer polyethylene terephthalate glycol (PETG) materials, like Biolon by Dreve. Despite being a more affordable choice, these materials still offer commendable performance and comfort, making them an attractive alternative for budget-conscious practices or patients.

To fabricate the aligners, the chosen material is heated and vacuum-formed over the 3D printed models. This process precisely replicates the contours of the model, creating an aligner that snugly fits over the patient's dentition.

Once formed, each aligner is meticulously trimmed and polished, typically using a dental micromotor. This stage is important for ensuring not only the precision fit of the aligner but also the comfort and safety of the patient. The edges of the aligner are smoothed to prevent irritation of the oral soft tissues, and any excess material is removed.

Through this careful process of aligner fabrication, the virtual treatment plan becomes a physical reality, ready to be delivered to the patient. This in-house production pathway offers practitioners an unprecedented level of control over treatment, leading to potential enhancements in both clinical outcomes and patient satisfaction.

Packaging and Delivery

With the aligners fabricated, trimmed, and polished, the final stage of in-office production is the packaging and delivery of the aligners to the patient. This presents another unique advantage of in-office aligner production: the opportunity for personal branding.

Unlike outsourcing aligner production to international giants like Invisalign, in-house production allows for complete customization of packaging, branding each set of aligners with the dental practice's name and logo. This adds a level of professionalism and bespoke branding that strengthens the relationship between patient and dental practice. It enables dental practitioners to promote their own services and brand, rather than serving as a platform for international corporations. This personalized touch can enhance patient loyalty, contribute to practice reputation, and aid in marketing efforts.

Aligners are typically packaged individually for each stage of treatment, with clear instructions about the order of use, duration of wear, and care instructions. This aids in patient compliance and allows for easy storage and organization. For convenience, a protective case can also be provided for patients to safely store their aligners when not in use.

Advantages of In-Office Production

A. Cost-Efficiency for Both Practice and Patients

The in-office production of orthodontic aligners provides a noteworthy financial advantage for both dental practices and patients. This approach can significantly reduce production costs when compared to the traditional method of outsourcing aligner fabrication to major companies such as Invisalign.

To illustrate, let's break down the estimated costs associated with producing a set of 30 aligners in-house:

  • 3D Printing Models: With the cost of 3D printing reduced dramatically in recent years, each model can be printed for as little as 1 USD. Over 30 stages, this totals 30 USD.

  • Aligner Material: High-quality aligner materials such as Zendura cost approximately 3 USD per sheet. For a 30-aligner case, this sums up to 90 USD.

  • Aligner Fabrication: Assuming a wage of 15 USD per hour for a dental technician who can fabricate around five aligners per hour, the fabrication cost per aligner is 3 USD. Over 30 stages, this results in 90 USD.

Adding these costs, the total production cost for a set of 30 aligners produced in-house comes to 210 USD.

Now, let's consider the design cost. Utilizing an independent aligner design provider such as eXceed, the design cost for a 30-aligner case is approximately 280 USD.

Combining the production and design costs, the total cost of producing a 30-aligner case in-house amounts to 490 USD.

Contrast this with the typical cost of ordering the same case from Invisalign, which can amount to around 1,500 USD. This signifies a substantial cost saving of over 1,000 USD per case when adopting in-house production.

The lower production costs of in-house aligners offer dental practices flexibility in their pricing strategy. They may choose to maintain similar pricing to outsourced aligners, thereby increasing profit margins. Alternatively, practices may opt to pass these savings onto their patients, offering orthodontic treatment at a more affordable price point. Either way, this cost-efficiency enhances the financial sustainability of the practice and makes orthodontic treatment more accessible to patients.

Expedited Delivery Time

A compelling advantage of in-office aligner production is the significant reduction in the time from case approval to aligner delivery. Traditional aligner manufacturing, which involves outsourcing to an external lab, often necessitates a waiting period of up to two weeks from the time of case approval to the delivery of the aligners. This delay can be frustrating for both patients and practitioners, as it postpones the commencement of treatment.

In contrast, in-office production empowers dental practices with the capability to begin aligner fabrication almost immediately after case approval. Once the aligner design is approved, dental practices can initiate the 3D printing of the models overnight. Given the rapid advancements in 3D printing technology, the first batch of models can be ready by the next day, allowing the aligner fabrication process to begin without delay.

With the first batch of aligners produced and ready for fitting within a day of case approval, patients can commence their orthodontic treatment journey significantly sooner. This expedited process not only increases patient satisfaction by reducing waiting times, but it also enhances the efficiency of the orthodontic treatment pathway, allowing for more patients to be treated within the same timeframe.

Therefore, the reduced delivery time associated with in-office aligner production is a significant advantage, offering benefits for both patient care and practice management. By streamlining the path from diagnosis to treatment, dental practices can deliver high-quality, efficient, and patient-centric care.

C. Dealing with Lost or Damaged Aligners

Another noteworthy advantage of in-office aligner production pertains to dealing with the common issue of lost or damaged aligners. This predicament often causes significant disruption to treatment plans, leading to delays and inconvenience for both patients and practitioners. Additionally, obtaining a replacement from an external lab often incurs additional costs and waiting time, further complicating the treatment process.

However, with in-office production, lost or damaged aligners are no longer a major setback. Since the 3D models for each stage of treatment are already printed and stored in-house, dental practices have the unique capability to reproduce any necessary aligner promptly.

Instead of waiting for a replacement aligner from an external lab, which can take up to a couple of weeks, the damaged or lost aligner can be reproduced almost immediately, allowing for minimal interruption to the treatment plan. This ability to promptly respond to such mishaps can significantly enhance the patient experience, ensuring the continuity of their treatment, and maintaining patient satisfaction and trust

D. Minimizing Cash Flow Gaps

Efficient cash flow management is paramount to the financial health of dental practices. Often, dentists and orthodontists providing aligners in high volumes face significant operational cash flow gaps. These gaps occur when practices need to pay upfront for aligners from external producers, yet payments from patients or insurance companies are still pending. Such a mismatch can strain financial resources and impact the overall functioning of the practice.

In-office aligner production offers a unique solution to this challenge. Since the cost of production is significantly lower and the majority of expenses are related to initial setup and ongoing materials, practices can better control their cash flow. They pay only for materials and labor at the time of production, instead of the full cost of outsourced aligners upfront.

Moreover, since the aligners can be produced on an as-needed basis, costs are spread over the duration of the treatment. The practice is not obligated to pay for the entire set of aligners at the outset. This eases cash flow pressure and aligns costs more closely with the receipt of payments from patients or insurance companies.

Reducing these operational cash flow gaps not only ensures smoother day-to-day functioning but also increases financial stability, allowing practices to reinvest in further advancements, staff training, or patient care initiatives. This demonstrates how in-office aligner production not only enhances clinical outcomes and patient satisfaction, but it also contributes to the financial and operational health of dental practices.


In the evolving landscape of orthodontics, in-office production of aligners has emerged as a game-changing approach, offering numerous benefits for both dental practices and patients. From significant cost savings and personalized branding to the ability to deliver treatment more swiftly and efficiently, this methodology has the potential to revolutionize orthodontic care.

The practice of manufacturing aligners in-house provides dental practices the ability to circumvent traditional challenges associated with external aligner providers. It resolves common issues such as long waiting periods for aligner delivery, the inconvenience caused by lost or damaged aligners, and the financial strain of operational cash flow gaps.

Moreover, in-house production empowers dental practitioners with unprecedented control over the treatment process, enhancing the quality of care, reducing delivery times, and offering greater financial flexibility. This, in turn, can lead to increased patient satisfaction and loyalty, further contributing to the growth and reputation of the practice.

In conclusion, the in-office production of orthodontic aligners represents a significant stride forward in the field of orthodontics, providing a more patient-centric, efficient, and cost-effective solution for aligner therapy. As technology continues to advance, it is likely that this trend will continue to gain traction, shaping the future of orthodontic treatment and care.

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