3D printing enhances quality of life for seniors
We’ve all heard them, those jokes about getting older: “You know you’re old when you and your teeth don’t sleep together.” It’s a humorous accommodation to the fact that one of the unfortunate features of aging is that bodily structures and systems deteriorate at a more rapid rate.
As anyone knows who has needed a dental implant or dental prosthetics, they are costly, as in the thousands. Medicare doesn’t cover this particular expense nor do most insurers, even dental insurers. In addition, there is usually an uncomfortable waiting period between tooth removal and implantation or development of a dental prosthesis.
That set of facts makes it exciting news that 3D printing is taking off in the dental industry. This development isn’t futuristic: it’s happening now. While at the moment, 3D printing technology is focused on reducing the cost and increasing the accuracy of dental surgery through lifelike modeling, 3D printing implants and dental prostheses aren’t far behind.
Says Andrew Wheeler, a 3D print journalist of Stratasys Objet260 Dental Selection 3D Printer, showcased at the International Dental Show in Germany just last month, March 2015: “I think it’s pretty nice that we are coming to an age where you can have a crown replaced almost immediately after having it scanned with an intra-oral scanner, have the data processed on 3D software, and then have the replacement 3D printed out for you while you comfortably relax with your pin-pricked gums, numbed out face, blinding light, and crappy TV or music.”
More than 50% of women in the U.S. suffer from osteoporosis and more than 25% of men. Hip fracture is a serious and costly public health problem in this country and internationally. Fragility fractures as a function of osteoporosis are associated with an approximately doubled risk of death in the year following the fracture. The annual cost of osteoporotic fractures to the US healthcare system in 2001 was approximately US$17 billion.
3D printing offers life-saving solutions as implants into the skeletal system. Two particularly impressive stories are these, one a hip implant, the other an arm-saving shoulder implant. 3D printed knee replacements have been used with good success. Particularly exciting are the stories of 3D printed implant processes completed with stem cells.
3D printed hip replacements can save lives and improve the quality of life. A year ago, surgeons at Southampton General Hospital 3D printed a hip joint for 71-year-old Meryl Richards and used her own stem cells to hold it in place.
3D printed shoulder implant. Also a year ago, a hospital in the Netherlands 3D printed the first shoulder prosthetic. The expectation was that the patient would have better mobility than with a traditional shoulder implant. Prior to that surgery, only knees had been replaced through 3D printing.
In another shoulder implant story, a tumor patient’s shoulder and arm were saved from amputation with a 3D printed shoulder implant.
Degenerating teeth aren’t the only reason seniors may have difficulty eating. Sadly more than 60% of elderly people have dysphagia, difficulty swallowing. Until now this problem has been addressed with unappetizing purees.
One German company, Biozoon, has a new approach. They have created a 3D printer that manufactures beautiful, appetizing, nutritious 3D printed soft foods. Developed in 2010, the concept has been adopted in over 1,000 retirement homes in Germany. Biozoon is now working with 14 companies from 5 countries and has received money from the European Union to develop the technology and improve supply. –
Transitioning from 3D Printing to Bioprinting: life everlasting?
Does 3D printing combined with bioprinting technology promise more comfortable and productive sunset years for all of us? Or even eternal life?
Bioprinting is a technology that artificially constructs living tissue by printing layer upon layer of living cells. It is not futuristic: it is here! In March 2015, Russian scientists unveiled a functional 3D printed thyroid. They hope to have a functional 3D printed kidney sometime during 2018.
As we are able to print functioning body tissue, some enthusiasts envision . . . well, eternal life. In this vision, 3D and bioprint technology will print replacements for each body part that wears out. In addition, by studying exact functional replicas of body parts produced with 3D modeling, we may be able to find solutions to many of the mysteries of aging.
The Smithsonian builds on this futuristic theme with “Organs made to order.” This idea points to a shorter term, very practical and probably less ethically laden use for 3D and bioprinting technology, though: Huffington Post explains “How 3D printing could end the deadly shortage of donor organs.“
In the even shorter term, 3D and bioprinting technology may assist failing organs instead of replacing them.
We live in exciting times!
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