Made to Measure: Facial Reconstruction with 3D Printing

November is Mouth Cancer Action Month (www.mouthcancer.org), and therefore a great opportunity to raise awareness of the condition and to highlight some of the advances in reconstruction, namely use of 3D printing technology.

In the UK, more than 6,700 people develop mouth cancer each year. The incidence has increased by 30% over the last decade and is expected to continue rising! It typically presents as a mouth ulcer (under or on the tongue) that enlarges and fails to heal. In the advanced stages, it can invade the jaw bone (mandible), which then has to be removed with the tumour.

We are fortunate to have access to a fantastic prosthetic team at Guy’s. From the CT scan images, they make a 3-dimensional image of the jaw (left). A resin replica of the patient’s jaw is then made with pinpoint accuracy using cutting edge 3D printing technology (middle). In this example, the planned excision of the jaw has been marked with red ink. After tumour excision, the jaw was reconstructed with the patient’s own fibula bone (image on right for demonstration only), which was accurately shaped to the 3D model using small bone cuts.

The accuracy of the reconstruction makes simple activities such as eating and talking much easier for the patient and facilitates dental implant insertion at a later stage. The 3D printing technology can be used for any aspect of facial bone reconstruction or even for planning aesthetic procedures.