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3D-printing dentists are recreating entire jaws

From helping humans live longer and hacking our performance, to repairing the body and understanding the brain, WIRED Health will hear from the innovators transforming this critical sector. Read all of our WIRED Health coverage here.

3D-printing has been used for basic dental procedures for years – and the technology is now advanced enough to reconstruct entire jaws.

"We used to use the lost wax technique which has been around 5,000 years," Andrew Dawood, a dentist with Dawood and Tanner, told the audience at WIRED Health. But 3D-printing has allowed him to do more with patients. And do it faster.

Dawood explained that he was able to design and print the frameowrk, cutting guides and parts needed to perform complex dental surgery. And all it required was data collected from 3D scans and patient records.

Plaster of Paris parts used for surgery are now 3D-printed and Dawood also uses plastics, rubbers, and metals while printing. "We're not 3D-printing bone yet – we will one day," he said.

A technique to make and 3D-printed human bone hasn't been developed yet, but Dawood and other surgeons are already using bone from other parts of the body to reconstruct entire jaws in the most complex cases.

Josh Stephenson, a designer and one of Dawood's patients, had his jaw reconstructed after suffering from a malignant melanoma. After unsuccessful radiotherapy treatment, Stephenson underwent surgery to remove his left eye, upper left jaw and the roof of his mouth.

Using a 3D-scanned and printed copy of Stephenson's skull it was possible to recreate the missing parts of his jaw.

Stephenson, who is a graphic designer, has since used the same 3D-scanning and printing technique to create new products. Dawood was able to asses the dentistry work needed from the 3D-printed model and then say how surgery to repair it should be carried out.

Using "bone taken from [Stephenson's] scapular" the dentist and other surgeons reconstructed his jaw. "Using this sort of technology, we can be more accurate, return our patient to society faster," said Dawood.

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