Dentists are Now Capable of Using 3D Printers to Reconstruct Entire Jaws

Josh Stephenson holding his 3D printed skull.

Josh Stephenson holding his 3D printed skull.

In 2009, fashion designer Josh Stephenson was diagnosed with a rare type of eye cancer that had spread throughout his face. After unsuccessfully undergoing radiotherapy in 2010, the cancer continued to spread so the doctors were forced to remove it. Altogether, Stephenson had his left eye, his upper jaw and the roof of his mouth removed. It took a massive team of surgeons, and several months of treatments, to remove all of the cancer, and then go in and reconstruct his jaw. After the surgery and his eventual recovery, Stephenson was inspired to create his own line of bespoke umbrella handles using the technology that helped give him his jaw back — 3D printing.

This 3D render of Stephenson's skull shows the removed skull in Green, the shoulder blade used to re-build his cheek bone in Red and the metal sockets for false teeth in Blue.

This 3D render of Stephenson’s skull shows the removed skull in green, the shoulder blade used to re-build his cheek bone in red and the metal sockets for false teeth in blue.

Reconstructing a patient’s jaw is difficult under normal circumstances, when, say, there are simply broken bones and a few lost teeth to repair. But Stephenson was actually missing most of his jaw by the time the cancerous tissue was removed, and that would make an already complicated procedure all that much more difficult. Thankfully, his dental surgeon had been using 3D printing in his practice since 1999 and knew exactly how to deploy it to help Stephenson. By the time everything was done, Andrew Dawood from UK dental practice Dawood and Tanner would end up using multiple 3D printing technologies at multiple stages throughout the reconstruction process.

“Josh had a life threatening cancer behind his eye, he received fantastic treatment at Moorfields Eye Hospital and the Royal London Hospital from surgeons Dr David Verity and Professor Iain Hutchison. I was required to be part of the reconstruction process using dental implants, we used both 3D printing and digital milling technology to make the reconstruction as accurate and seamless as possible,” Dawood explained to TCT.

By using medical scan data, Dawood was able to create a 3D printed model of Stephenson’s skull. The model allows him to see exactly what structure of his skull was left intact, what would need to be repaired and what would need to be replaced altogether. Once he had a surgical plan in place, he used metal 3D printers to create what would be used as a framework around which to rebuild the jaw. The metal 3D printed part was machine milled into the exact shape needed, and a team of surgeons used it in combination with part of Stephenson’s shoulder blade to create his new jaw.

3D modelling surgical guides and using a 3D printed skull for surgical preplanning.

(L)3D modeling surgical guides; (R) using a 3D printed skull for surgical preplanning.

Dawood also deployed 3D printing to create exact surgical guides, so he would know exactly where to cut any remaining bone tissue, and where to join it back together again. The surgical guides are generated using the same medical data used to create a 3D model of the skull, and using computer software doctors can simulate where each cut needs to be made. They then 3D print both the cutting guide, which allows them to make very precise cuts, and surgical guides that will hold the cut bone fragments in place while pins, implants and other surgical devices are put into place.

Of course, the most common 3D printing technology used in the reconstruction was the actual production of the replacement teeth. Dentists have been using a modern update of the lost wax process to create the tooth implants, and the wax models are printed on state of the art 3D printers. Additionally, any molds of the patient’s teeth and jaw that would traditionally be made or any parts that would need to be cast in Plaster of Paris were now entirely 3D printed. Virtually every step of the amazing dental surgical procedure would not have been possible, or perhaps as successful, without 3D printing technology.

The 3D printed umbrella handles designed by Stephenson.

The 3D printed umbrella handles designed by Stephenson.

Throughout an ordeal that would test anyone, Stephenson remained positive and upbeat, and his experiences ended up rejuvenating his design career. As a former luxury designer who worked for the world famous London-based department store Harrods, Stephenson always had the desire to create luxury umbrellas with unique handles, but because of the cost of injection molding it never really seemed possible. Until he held a 3D printed copy of his skull in his hand, that is.

Interestingly, it was Dawood who would once again come to Stephenson’s rescue by offering the 3D design and printing services of his own 3D printing bureau, Digits2Widgets, to help create the line of luxury umbrellas. You can learn more about the various 3D printing technologies used by Dawood and Tanner on their website, and you can learn more about Stephenson and his line of umbrellas here.

The 3D printed umbrella handles inspired by the 3D printed skull.

The 3D printed umbrella handles inspired by the 3D printed skull.

Leave a Reply