South African medical specialists have successfully used 3D printing to create jaw bones for two facially deformed men.

On July 24th the two patients received titanium mandible implants created with 3D printing technology at the Kimberley Hospital Complex in the Northern Cape.

The two patients – aged 31 and 20 – lost portions of their faces due to cancer and ancillary diseases. “Cancer is a terrible disease affecting many people,” stated Head Surgeon, Dr Cules van der Heever. “More than 500 new cases of head and neck cancer are diagnosed every year in the Northern Cape alone. These cancers cause serious disfiguration, negatively impacting the patient’s quality of life. The idea with these implants is to fix the facial contour and restore normal function and appearance.”

3D Printing Jaw - EHNThe jaws were 3D printed with a titanium powder, via a laser sintering process after being modelled with Materialise’s Mimics, 3-matic and Magics software at The Central University of Technology (CUT) in Bloemfontein. Once printed, they were exact fits, and a team of five specialists then performed the implantation.

Because the jaws were custom built, layer by layer, specifically for each patient, the surgery time was cut back significantly. Also, due to the use of 3D printed titanium, each surgery cost just 20% of what a traditional jaw implant surgery would have cost. Using traditional CNC milling to manufacture a jaw implant wastes approximately 80% of the titanium block used, whereas 3D printing wastes almost no titanium at all.

Although it’s not yet possible for teeth to be implanted into the titanium jaws, the metal is compatible with the human body, making it less likely to be rejected when used to replace bone structures.

The 3D printers are imported from Germany and cost approximately €500.000 (R7.1 million).  The technology is under pilot in Kimberley with intentions to roll it out to other South African healthcare facilities countrywide.

This is the first time such a procedure was performed in South Africa, and only the second time in the world. Last year the first 3D printed titanium jaw implant was performed on a 80 year old woman in Belgium who had lost her jaw to bone infection.

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