3D Printed PPE for Dentistry
Opportunities and actions during the current pandemic
Praveen R. Arany, DDS, PhD
In moments of adversity, there are opportunities for the prepared to effect positive change. The unprecedented COVID-19 public health crisis unleashed this February was a rude awakening for the dental profession. Not only did the pandemic disrupt our academic and professional services, but also our profession was confronted with serious concerns about its practice in the future. The source of the pandemic, the SARS-CoV-2 virus, was present in the mouth, nose, and throat-our very playing field. The collective helplessness led to a powerful introspective moment for many of us regarding what we could do to help in this crisis.
At the University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine, the faculty and students quickly learned of the urgent need for personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks and face shields. Our laboratory had been actively pursuing additive 3D printing and had recently published about a key advancement involving 3D printed antifungal dentures. We searched the internet for innovative solutions and came across the Billings Clinic, Montana Mask, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) 3D Print Exchange. In a joint effort led by three students, Jaewon Kim (a periodontics resident), Philip Sales (a graduate student), and Jacob Graca (a third-year dental student), the laboratory was able to design and generate masks. The ease and competency with which they were able to generate these masks was a catalytic moment, and we quickly realigned our resources to seriously pursue 3D printing PPE.
Our initial mask design, which we posted to social media, led to an invitation to collaborate with an international open-source 3D printing organization, e-NABLE, as well as with faculty from other departments at the University at Buffalo. In this unique, rapid-paced collaboration, the contributors quickly organized into a working group that called itself the Buffalo e-NABLE consortium.1 The group met up to three times a week, pursuing digital designs, prototyping, testing, and performing fitting analyses. Their design, the BE Mask, has received emergency use authorization by the US Food and Drug Administration and is currently in the final phases of validation for mass production. The group's central founding principle, to make all designs freely available on the internet via an open-source, creative commons license for both personal and commercial use, is intended to ensure widespread distribution and harness communal 3D printing resources, such as public libraries, high schools, or hobbyists.
In addition to the masks, our enthusiastic student volunteers quickly organized themselves and began 3D printing NIH-approved clinical designs of two other types of PPE: comfort bands and face shields.2 Our latest initiative has been the creation of an innovative 3D PPE vending service run by our university that enables these products to be more widely available to our local community. And in keeping with our mission of self-reliance, we are currently generating several do-it-yourself video tutorials, which focus on the purchase, printing, care, and use of 3D PPE, through our institute's continuing dental education program.3 Although these brief online courses are intended to enable dental offices to 3D print the growing list of widely available PPE and other clinically useful designs, users are cautioned to ensure that any self-generated PPE meets their local regulatory requirements.
Technical knowledge aside, this 3D printing initiative has enabled invaluable experiential learning for our dental and graduate students, including practical skills, such as creating an online web presence, organizing production, marketing, collecting feedback, understanding group dynamics, and engaging in regulatory-policy interactions with administration, among many others. This entire initiative has been service-oriented, and to date, all of our products have been provided free of cost. The equipment and infrastructure were supported by a University at Buffalo BlueSky research grant, SDM pilot funding, and local philanthropy. Moving forward, a major goal is to enable this initiative to become self-sufficient via commercial endorsements and philanthropic support. The 3D printing angle has turned out to be a silver lining in the current pandemic crisis, providing us with a unique opportunity to apply our skills and resources to address an urgent need in our dental community.
1. BE Mask. BE Mask Project website. https://bemask.org. Updated June 2, 2020. Accessed September 30, 2020.
2. Buffalo 3D PPE. https://www.buffalo3dppe.com. Accessed September 30, 2020.
3. Continuing Education (CDE). University of Buffalo School of Dental Medicine website. https://dental.buffalo.edu/education/continuing-education.html. Accessed September 30, 2020.
About the Author
Praveen R. Arany, DDS, PhD, is an assistant professor in the Department of Oral Biology at the The State University of New York at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine in Buffalo, New York.