Dec 18, 2014 | By Alec

It's no secret that 3D printing's largest innovative strength is in its medical applications, where it can truly save lives. However not all 3D printed medical applications need to be life-saving, as mankind can also greatly benefit from solutions for discomforting or annoying afflictions.

It was therefore very interesting to learn about Oventus technology, a brand-new 3D printed solution for sleep apnea developed by Australian dentist Chris Hart. If you've never heard about it before, sleep apnea is one of those medical conditions that is, above everything else, annoying and discomforting for the people around you. Indeed, sufferers themselves are rarely aware of having it, while as much as 1,7 million Americans have it.

In a nutshell, patients with sleep apnea suffer from a very irregular breathing pattern, caused by an obstructed windpipe. This can be caused by muscles that relax too much during sleep, or even by too much fat pressing on it. Airflow is restricted, causing a very irregular pattern that causes patients to momentarily gasp for air. However, patients rarely wake up when this occurs, and are thus often unaware that they have it. Even you could have it, without noticing.

While not a serious problem and mostly just annoying others sleeping in the same room, sleep apnea does have a number of consequences. Patients overwhelmingly suffer from daytime fatigue, a slower reaction time, and vision problems. This logically means that a loss of productivity and an increased risk of accidents, though if left untreated, sleep apnea also increases your chances of developing other diseases such as diabetes and heart problems.

Fortunately, the Brisbane-based dentist Christ Hart has come up with a 3D printed solution: the Oventus Clearway Device, a special type of customized mouthguard that assists airflow. It could be compared to a 'duckbill' that extends from the mouth and creates into two separate airways that enable air to easily flow down. As Chris explained, 'The patented air inlet port and airways deliver air to the rear of the mouth, avoiding obstructions from the nose, soft palate and tongue. The stream of air helps keep airways open at the back of the mouth. 3D printing customised for the user reduces the size of the appliance and allows optimised airway shape and pathway. All these factors contribute to more effective air intake.'

Chris Hart is a veteran of dentistry and throat treatment, and has long since been interested in commercial aspects of health care delivery. He developed the idea for a specialized mouthguard, and approached the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation(CSIRO), who teamed him up with one of their resident developers, John Barnes. Together, they realized Chris's concept in 3D printed Titanium. 'Chris Hart and his company had the great ideas, we just enabled them to become a reality, John Barnes explained, relying on scanning software and business modelling.

As Chris explained on his website, each Oventus appliance will be custom-made for the patient, relying on 3D scanning, CT scans of the jaw area or an impression of the user's teeth. These will be used to make a CAD file that can be 3D printed in titanium, with a biomedical polymer layer on top for a 'smooth, conformable and comfortable finish.' The devices are even set to come with their own cleaning appliances and cleaning tablets.

At the moment, Oventus is even considering three different variations, each intended to increase patients' airflow in certain situations. The 'Active' model is intended for daytime, to make daily activities easier and improve breathing, while the 'Sleep' model fits the classic, anti-apnea image. 'For all sleep apnea patients, mild to severe. Especially for "mouth breathers", minimising dry mouth and eliminating mask discomfort.'

But then there's even a 'Sports Plus' model, intended for everyone in an active sport that requires a mouthguard. 'Many people who play contact sports (such as rugby and football) find it difficult to breathe through their mouths with mouthguards in place.' This model is intended to make breathing and talking as easy as possible while wearing a mouthpiece. Can you imagine exercising with one of these in?

However their Oventus product isn't quite ready for the Christmas season just yet, but could certainly be something to keep in mind for the holidays next year. The prototyping and design phases have been successfully completed, while commercial 3D manufacturing options and clinical trials are being developed.

But the first reviews are already very promising. One Australian patient, who's been suffering from sleep apnea for years, called the device both life-changing and relationship changing. He and his wife had been sleeping in different rooms for years because of his condition, but he was fortunately able to report that he has not only returned to his own bedroom, but also notices an increase in energy levels. 'I used to need an afternoon nap, I was so exhausted from a bad night's sleep, but I find I am getting up earlier, exercising more, and no more afternoon naps,' Maurice Hrovat told reporters.

It's almost enough to make you want to order one for your dad or uncle (and their wives), but there's just one problem: they're rather pricy. Depending on your individual requirements, insurances and nationality, costs can quickly rise to around $1500. Perhaps a bit too expensive for a Christmas present?


Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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