Belgian and Dutch doctors have replaced an 83-year-old woman’s badly infected jaw with a bespoke 3D-printed mandible.
The lower jaw of the elderly woman needed to be removed, which would normally affect vital functions like breathing, speaking, chewing, and swallowing. Traditional reconstructive surgery is a lengthy and risky process, especially considering the age of the patient.
So instead, a tailor-made implant was created. Metal-focused additive manufacturer LayerWise from Leuven in Belgium used a method developed by the Research Institute Biomed at Hasselt University, also in Belgium, to create the fake jaw.
The 3D printers we’re familiar with generally use materials like plaster or resin. At LayerWise, they used powdered titanium, which is printed out layer by layer. A computer-controlled laser fuses the correct particles together. Finally, the printed jaw was given a bioceramic coating that was compatible with the patient’s tissue.
The artificial jaw weighs 107 grams — slightly heavier than a natural jaw, but “certainly not a problem,” Hasselt University says.
With more traditional methods it can take up to two days before an implant is completely ready. The 3D-printed jaw was in the patient’s mouth after four hours, and she was speaking and swallowing the next day. The other benefit of 3D printing is that it uses less material than other methods.
The operation was performed in June 2011 in a hospital in Sittard-Geleen, in the southeastern Netherlands. Announcing the breakthrough on 2 February, 2012, Biomed professor Jules Poukens said, “doctors and engineers together around the design computer and the operation table: that’s what we call being truly innovative.”