How 3D Printers Could Solve The State Prison Denture Problem

An earlier investigation by the Houston Chronicle found that many Texas inmates who needed dentures to eat and speak were denied the devices. Now, officials are looking to change that with cost-effective 3D-printed dentures.

By Jill AmentDecember 12, 2018 11:18 am,

For Texas inmates who’ve been denied dentures by the state, a reprieve may now come thanks to 3D printing. This comes after an investigation by the Houston Chronicle earlier this year that detailed how difficult it was for many Texas state prisoners to get dentures they said they needed to do daily tasks, like eat and speak.

Keri Blakinger covers prisons for the Houston Chronicle and was behind that initial investigation. Blakinger says prison officials are changing their policies to make dentures more available, and also plan to set up a dental clinic. She says at first, it was unclear how the prisons were going to achieve that, then she heard about the 3D printing.

“It’s a lot of inmates to transport if you’re going to have one central clinic,” Blakinger says. “They’re going to pull this off by 3D-printing dentures.”

She says the military is already doing this. And while there hasn’t been a clinical trial on full sets of dentures, there has been one study on the efficacy of 3D-printed partial dentures. Blakinger says 3D-printed dentures have been around for about a decade.

“It’s not just some crazy, off-the-wall idea; it’s actually being done,” Blakinger says.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice plans to have 3D printers at some of its facilities, though Blakinger says it hasn’t yet decided which ones. It will also hire a denture specialist.

“They’ll hire a denture specialist, and then another two technicians, and they’ll be able to print them on site,” Blakinger says. “It’ll work by having wands at some of the individual units, and they then, like, wand the inmate’s mouth to get a scan, and then they’ll send that to the one unit that has a printer and print it out.”

She says doing it this way will help TDCJ avoid the cost and logistical challenge of moving inmates back and forth between prisons and the dental clinic.

But the 3D-printing initiative will still cost money. Blakinger says the start-up costs alone will be between $50,000 and $100,000. But once the printers are set up, the cost to make each set of dentures will be much cheaper than traditional dentures.

“I’m told it would be somewhere around, like, $50 a set,” Blakinger says.

While some may argue that such an effort shouldn’t go toward people who are incarcerated, Blakinger says there’s still a strong argument for equipping people with dentures who are about to be released.

“They need to go get jobs and that impacts recidivism rates, so at the least, there’s a benefit there,” Blakinger says.

Written by Caroline Covington.