Jerry Faber recovered from cancer, but he lost part of his nose in the process. He had three plastic surgeries to try to restore his facial anatomy, but all of them failed, leaving Faber discouraged and ready to give up.
“I was done,” he said. “I couldn’t take being cut on anymore.”
He was referred to Dr. Travis Bellicchi, a fourth-year maxillofacial prosthodontics resident at the Indiana University School of Dentistry. He led a team that took a different approach to Faber’s case – one that relied on digital technology including 3D scanning and 3D printing. Less than 24 hours after his first visit to Dr. Bellicchi, Faber had a facial prosthesis that fit seamlessly, giving him a completely natural appearance.
“I’m just flabbergasted,” Faber said. “A lot of people don’t even notice it. It’s fake, but it looks so real.”
To make the prosthesis, the team 3D scanned Faber’s face and created a digital model, which they then used to create a perfectly-fitting, natural-looking part that would attach to the front of Faber’s nose. The prosthesis was then 3D printed and attached in a matter of hours. Dr. Bellicchi described the 3D design and 3D printing process well, commenting that it “can make a thought into a thing very quickly.”
“The digital workflow allows us to move much faster,” he said. “We capture the facial geometry with an LED structured light scanner. That happens in a matter of seconds. So you instantly have a three-dimensional volumetric representation of the patient’s face in a digital form, upon which you can virtually sculpt a prosthesis using organic modeling software.”
Faber’s case was an especially fast one – crafting a prosthesis can take longer if, for example, a magnetic retention system is needed to keep it in place. Regardless, 3D printing a prosthesis is still much faster than creating one the traditional way, which involves making a facial impression from a papier-mâché-like material and plaster cast, sculpting the prosthesis from clay or wax, then making another plaster mold to produce the final part. It’s a process that can take weeks or even months, especially if the first one doesn’t fit perfectly.
“With a digital workflow, we get closer to a more precise first prosthesis because I can rely on digital design and rapid prototyping,” Dr. Bellicchi said. “Even if it’s the first prosthesis we do for a patient, it usually fits better and has more aesthetic appeal than what I was able to accomplish sculpting with clay or wax and relying on plaster molds to fabricate a silicone prosthesis.”
Digital design and 3D printing works so well for Dr. Bellicchi and his team that it’s become their primary approach to cases like Faber’s, rather than something they try when traditional approaches don’t work.
“We are unique in the sense that we commit completely to the digital workflow for every new prosthesis patient,” Dr. Bellicchi said. “This is the way I work now. It’s not a backup plan, not an alternative option.”
Faber is extremely pleased with his new prosthesis, and the team that crafted it for him is happy as well.
“It’s thrilling to see patients’ reactions to the work we do,” Dr. Bellicchi said. “I just love my job. I just love it.”
The team that worked on the prosthesis also included Cade B.T. Jacobs, Jordan N. Nelsen, and Nicole Alderson.
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