3D-printed mouthpiece to treat sleep apnoea

Monday, 12 May, 2014

Using a 3D scanner to map a patient’s mouth and 3D printing, researchers are successfully developing customised mouthpieces to help people with sleep apnoea. The device prevents pauses in breath during sleep and also stops snoring.

Developed by CSIRO researchers and Australian dental company Oventus, the mouthpiece is printed from titanium and coated with a medical-grade plastic.

It works via a ‘duckbill’ that extends from the mouth like a whistle and divides into two separate airways. The airways extend to the back of the mouth and deliver air to the back of the throat. In this way, the mouthpiece bypasses obstructions from the nose and the back of the mouth and tongue that can cause sleep apnoea.

Sleep apnoea occurs when the air passage in the throat becomes blocked during sleep and causes people to stop breathing. In severe cases, people can suffer hundreds of events per night.

One million Australians are estimated to suffer from the disorder, which can lead to high blood pressure, stroke, irregular heartbeats, heart attacks and diabetes. And this number is expected to increase due to growing obesity levels and an ageing population.

Existing treatments for sleep apnoea include devices that push the lower jaw forward to open up the airway or, in more severe cases, the use of a continuous positive airway pressure machine and a face mask that creates a continuous flow of air.

CSIRO’s 3D printing expert, John Barnes, said the technology is opening new doors for treatments of a range of medical issues globally.

“When Oventus came to CSIRO with this idea, we were really excited. The possibilities of 3D printing are endless and the fact that we can now design and print a completely customised mouthpiece for patients is revolutionary,” Barnes said.

Oventus CEO Neil Anderson said the key to the new 3D treatment was in the design.

“This new device is tailored to an individual’s mouth using a 3D scan and is used only on the top teeth, which make it more compact and far more comfortable.”

The device is expected to be available to patients in 2015

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