In an Australia first, surgeons in Melbourne have successfully replaced a man’s lower jaw with a custom designed, 3D-printed prosthetic.
Thirty-two-year-old Richard Stratton was the self-named ‘patient X’ for an experimental joint design. Stratton had grown with an underdeveloped lower jaw, but it never caused any problems until the last few years. Pain while chewing, headaches and difficulty opening his mouth caused him to seek out a maxillofical surgeon to address the problem. At one point, he couldn’t even open his mouth wide enough to insert a fork.
A Custom Prosthesis for a Custom Problem
Oral surgeon Dr. George Dimitroulis was able to design and test a new prosthesis with the help of Melbourne University’s mechanical engineering department. While there have been a few successful 3D-printed jaw surgeries to date, this was the first one utilizing a titanium part. The part was a pivotal aspect of the design—protecting the cranial cavity from a joint that would wear on the skull.
The titanium joint was made with powder, which technicians heated and fused layer by layer as they printed it. The team at Melbourne also CT scanned Stratton’s skull and printed a model in order to adjust the titanium joint to perfection. Then to cover all their bases, they ran computer models of the type of movements Stratton would make while chewing to ensure the durability of the prosthesis.
Successful Surgery and Recovery
The customized joint was successfully attached to Stratton’s jaw during a five-hour surgery last month. Now, he can already open his mouth wider than before, and his physiotherapist believes his jaw articulation is better than that of similar patients who received a different type of surgery.
"They have a 3D model of my skull and the fact that they've made the joint to fit that perfectly, I feel a lot safer in knowing that it's not just a factory made, off-the-shelf joint,” said Stratton.
He also hopes that the precision and care that went into making the joint will result in a shorter recovery for him and greater longevity for the prosthetic.
Dr. Dimitroulis is proud of the care that went into designing and personalizing the joint to Stratton’s needs. "It really makes the fit truly patient-fitted, truly customized, as opposed to 'we're close enough' and it's something that I think will become the norm in the future…”
The accomplishment is also a boon for Australia and jaw prosthesis research in general. As the joint was designed in Australia and printed by Port Melbourne’s 3D Medical, an Australian 3D-printing firm, it’s a great example of “smart Australia,” according to Dr. Dimitroulis.
He also believes that the new technology will offer a lot to people in the rest of the world. ”We are at the crossroads of an exciting era, where an increased use of 3D technology will see customized medical devices become an integral part of healthcare," he said.