Published June 26, 2020
A team of UB dental students is using 3D printers to supply UB and Western New York dentists with much-needed protective equipment as local practices return to providing oral health care.
The students, working under the guidance of Praveen Arany, assistant professor of oral biology, are creating free face shields and comfort bands ─ a strip of material worn with masks to relieve pain and stress on ears. The reusable face shields are designed to accommodate dental loupes ─ the magnifying glasses that dentists wear while examining patients’ mouths.
To date, the students have received more than 120 orders, and printed more than 800 comfort bands and more than 150 face shields, both of which have National Institutes of Health-approved clinical designs, says Arany.
The initiative began after Arany’s lab stopped its research due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The lab’s 3D printers were previously used to create and investigate medication-filled 3D-printed dentures, smart fillings and bone regenerative scaffolds.
To avoid letting the equipment sit idle, Arany and more than a dozen students immediately began using the printers to create protective equipment.
“There appears to be growing concerns about the sustainability of the PPE supply chain,” says Arany, who redirected nearly $7,000 of his lab resources into the project. “Anticipating this need and our biomaterials research capabilities, our student-led initiative is self-sufficient, sustainable and customizable.
“There is also the potential for future student employment, as the project is a fantastic learning and research opportunity for my lab and the dental student volunteers.”
At the forefront of the initiative are Philip Sales, a master’s student in biological sciences who conducts research in Arany’s lab; third-year dental student Shaina Chechang; second-year dental student Kierra Bleyle; and UB alumnus Eric Niles.
“Dentistry is always evolving and improving its technology, and demands a lot of critical thinking,” says Chechang, who was motivated to help health care workers during the pandemic.
“This opportunity has allowed me to broaden my horizons and continue learning about innovative advances when it comes to problem-solving,” she says. “A box of masks before the pandemic was less than $10, and a few weeks ago it was $53. It’s shocking, but unfortunately that’s the reality of it. The idea of 3D-printed PPE is a great way to resolve the shortage.”
Sales would sometimes work until 2 a.m., helping churn out up to 60 face shields per week. Each shield, he says, takes 90 minutes to make.
Operating out of Foster Hall on the South Campus, Sales used free design software and models from the NIH 3D depository to create the face shields and modified the design to specifically accommodate the needs of dentists.
“The Buffalo community has been so good to me. I put in all of these hours to give back and help the community,” says Sales, who moved from Chicago to Buffalo in 2019 to begin his graduate studies.
“This has also allowed me to channel my passion for making things. I took my knowledge of graphic design and scale modeling and came up with a way to help the community, especially the highest at-risk dental personnel,” adds Sales, who hopes to become a dentist.
Key contributions also came from Jaewon Kim, a periodontics resident, and third-year dental student Jacob Graca, both of whom focus their research on 3D printing for clinical dentistry.
“The COVID pandemic has raised serious concerns in our dental profession on patient and operator safety. We were thrilled to see our 3D-printing research is assisting our profession with these PPEs in such a timely manner,” says Kim.
The majority of orders were made by local dentists, UB researchers and clinical scientists, and School of Dental Medicine alumni. The students received several requests from out-of-state clinics as well.
To learn more about the project, team members or to order free materials, visit the Buffalo 3D PPE website.
Donations to support the student-led initiative can be made online.