How 3D printing helped bull terrier heal

3D printing

A 3D printed mask has been developed in the US—and for the first time used successfully as a cast to help heal the fractured skull of a dog.

The mask is the result of a collaboration between faculty members of the UC Davis veterinary hospital’s Dentistry and Oral Surgery Service (DOSS) and students from the UC Davis College of Engineering (COE)—working together to design an apparatus that helps the healing process of maxillofacial fractures, much like a traditional cast helps leg fractures to heal.

Their Exo-K9 Exoskeleton—a custom, 3D printed exoskeleton for dogs with maxillomandibular injuries—was recently used for the first time on a four-month-old female Staffordshire bull terrier called Loca who was bitten by another dog so severely that her right cheekbone and jawbone were fractured, and her temporomandibular joint (TMJ) suffered extensive damage. In addition, there were multiple puncture wounds on her face and neck.

As soon as Loca arrived at the hospital, she was placed under general anaesthesia for a cone-beam CT scan to fully characterise the extent of her injuries. The scan showed the extent of the injuries to her facial bones, jawbone, TMJ, and also a small fracture in the vertebrae of her neck. A salvage surgery was then performed to remove bone fragments from her right zygomatic arch and right caudal mandible.

While Loca was recovering from surgery, students from COE’s Biomedical Engineering (BME) Department got to work printing the first ever Exo-K9 to be used on a patient. Based on Loca’s exact specifications from her CT scan, the mask’s dimensions would precisely fit her head, and help optimise the healing process.

Sure enough, three months later, a cone-beam CT scan revealed that Loca’s previous surgery sites had healed well and that the new TMJ formation was progressing nicely. The CT scan and full-mouth dental radiographs did show, however, that her first and second molars on her right jaw were malformed but those teeth were extracted without complication.

Reports from UC Davis are that Loca continues to recover well from her injuries.

Those involved believe this innovative approach to harnessing the capabilities of 3D printing could lead to helping dogs with severe fractures where internal fixation is not a possibility due to various limitations.

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