Move over, Iron Man. Titanium is next. Mouth and throat cancer can lead to the removal of the jawbone where tumors are. Replacing the jaw is essential for a person to be able to talk, eat and drink again. But restoring this ability requires taking bone from elsewhere in the body such as from a leg and reconstructing it. Instead, scientists wanted to come up with a less invasive, stronger alternative and they have turned to titanium.
After four years of research and development, investigators report they have a new titanium jaw and first successful operation with it.
Researchers in the Netherlands implanted a new lower jawbone into a patient after modeling its shape on imaging scans of the person and then 3D printing a titanium version.
Replacing the jaw is challenging and conventional methods tended to break about 40% of the time. Reconstructed bone taken from elsewhere in the body isn’t as durable and getting the right fit is difficult. Another drawback is loose screws in the strip attaching the new bone to the remaining area, which can be dangerous for a person to choke on.
Our jaw is the largest and strongest bone in the face. Located in the lower part of the mouth, it is the only moveable bone of the skull and is attached to muscles involved in chewing and other mouth movements like talking. Sometimes called the mandible, our jaw holds our bottom teeth in place.
The 3D-printed titanium jaw, however, can be designed to precisely match the specifications needed based on CT and MRI scans of the patient, ensuring it fits well and doesn’t shift out of place.
The prosthetic jaw also contains an internal mesh structure that ensures it is strong enough for chewing without risk of fracture or being too heavy. In fact, the titanium jaw is designed to be approximately the same weight as actual bone, so it feels more natural for people.
It will take a couple years before these kinds of devices will be commercially available, but the Dutch researchers who designed and implanted this 3D-printed jaw have already begun expanding the technique to create implants for other parts of the face and skull.