one of the 3D images of one of the patients. Picture supplied
one of the 3D images of one of the patients. Picture supplied

Kimberley - During a South African first, a groundbreaking dental procedure was performed at the Kimberley Hospital on Wednesday when two patients received titanium mandible implants, created with 3D printing technology.

The procedure will pave the way in improving the lives of more than 500 Northern Cape patients diagnosed with head and neck cancer each year.

The operation was headed by Dr Cules van den Heever, from the University of Pretoria and the Central University of Technology (CUT)’s Centre of Rapid Prototyping and Manufacturing.

He was assisted by Dr Walleed Ikram, Head of the Kimberley Hospital Dental Unit, Dr Kobus Hoek, a maxillofacial surgeon, as well as doctors Philip Johnsson and Riaan Liebenberg, both dentists at the Kimberley Hospital’s Dental Department.

The titanium mandible prosthesis implants were created using the Objet Connex 350 3D printing machine through Additive Manufacturing (3D printing technology), at the CUT in Bloemfontein.

The procedure, where patients received titanium implants after having lost parts of their faces due to cancer and other related diseases, is considered groundbreaking in the medical field.

Acting CUT Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Henk de Jager, said that Van den Heever was a well-known, highly respected expert in his field who had worked in this industry for years.

Van den Heever said the 3-D innovations were part of efforts to bring change to the lives of many.

“Cancer is a terrible disease affecting many people. More than 500 new cases of head and neck cancer are diagnosed every year in the Northern Cape alone. These cancers causes serious disfiguration, negatively affecting patients’ living quality.

“The idea with these implants is to fix the facial contour and restore normal function and appearance,” Van den Heever said.

He added that yesterday’s procedure was only the second of its kind to be performed globally.

Ikram said that the success of South Africa’s first synthetic titanium jaw implant was a great feat and showed that the Northern Cape could offer specialised treatment and could also lead the way in improving the lives of many patients diagnosed with head and neck cancer.

He added that finance was the biggest obstacle standing in the way of future procedures and called on business, industry and government to support these interventions to be able to change the lives of many more people.

The first operation of this kind ever was performed last year by Belgian surgeons, who used the 3D printing to transform the life of an eighty-year-old woman with a bone infection.

According to a report posted on the website,, the woman had so much damage to her lower jaw bone that it could not be saved.

“When doctors from Belgium heard about her case, they decided to help her out by creating a customized, 3D printed titanium jaw implant for her. They hoped the printed implant would allow her to lead a normal life by restoring her ability to eat, drink and speak,” a posted report said.

“In order to successfully build the implant, the woman first underwent an MRI. This gave the surgeons an exact scan to work with and allowed them to develop a plan for a customised implant that would attach to the remaining parts of her jaw.

“They then fed the plans into a 3D printer which built a new jaw for the woman by fusing titanium powder into the needed shape.”

The jaw implant reportedly took just two days to manufacture.

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