Recently we've been spending our time reaching out to the medical community in Scotland, trying to understand the needs of the different departments within the medical and dental spheres.

We were pleased to get a call back from Fraser Walker from the Maxillofacial department at the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow. He was really interested in speaking to us and kind enough to invite us in to see what they do. The second I put the phone down, I went straight to Google to ask "What does Maxillofacial mean?". Okay, so I'm not so clued up on the medical jargon... 

Put basically, the British Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons describe it as:

Oral & Maxillofacial (OMF) Surgeons specialise in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases affecting the mouth, jaws, face and neck.

Fraser Walker is the honorary secretary at the MaxFac laboratory at the Southern General, where they use 3D printing to improve their treatment of maxillofacial patients.

The Southern General Hospital

The Southern General Hospital

pon our arrival, Fraser was extremely friendly and keen to show us all around their lab, explaining to us in detail (without breaching confidentiality, of course) how they've used their Objet 30 3D Printer to produce 3D models for different purposes. The majority of the models they make are full scale, and mostly serve as a reference for planning surgical operations. 

He then introduced us to Micheal O'Neill, an award-winning maxillofacial prosthetist who gracefully granted us some of his valuable time to show us how their CAD workflow happens, from CT scan right through to 3D printed models and final surgical procedure plans. 

Using Materialise's very-high-end Mimics software, they take raw data from a CT scan, and filter it down to exactly what parts and what tissue type they need. This can then be converted into an interactive 3D model.

Materialise's Mimics Software Package - (SOURCE)

Once the 3D model is created, the prosthetist has a range of tools they can use to plan surgical procedures:

  • isolating bone area to be removed
  • design cutting guides
  • using removed bone to find suitable replacement bone to harvest from elsewhere
  • replacing old bone with harvested bone to analyse suitability
  • planning of welded titanium plate to hold the new bone in place

Over the course of such a process, typically more than one 3D printed model will be used to validate the surgical plan, and to communicate with the patient exactly what is going to happen.

Fraser went on to describe how invaluable 3D printing has become as part of their treatment, describing how surgeons have become so reliant on 3D printed reference models that they have almost forgotten that as little as 10 years ago, they had to perform facial re-constructive surgery without them.

As a 3D printing service, the ability to produce models that will potentially reduce surgery time, risk of infection and improve overall results is quite humbling. We will always enjoy making and perfecting aesthetic & functional models, but when you can help to make a difference to someone's quality of life in this way it really illustrates the life changing benefits of 3D printing technology.