Using a 3D scanner to map a patient's mouth, researchers from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and Australian dental company, Oventus, can print a mouthpiece which prevents dangerous pauses in breath during sleep.
    
Printed from titanium and coated with a medical grade plastic, the mouthpiece is customized for each patient.
    
The device has a 'duckbill' which extends from the mouth like a whistle and divides into two separate airways. It allows air to flow through to the back of the throat, avoiding obstructions from the nose, the back of the mouth and tongue.
    
Sleep apnea 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.
    
The existing treatments for sleep apnea include devices that push the lower jaw forward to open up the airway or in more severe cases; a face mask which creates a continuous flow of air can be used.
    
CSIRO's 3D printing expert, John Barnes, said the technology is opening new doors for treatments of a range of medical issues globally.
    
"The possibilities of 3D printing are endless and the fact that we can now design and print a completely customized mouthpiece for patients is revolutionary," Barnes said.
    
"It's an exciting prospect for people suffering from the debilitating disorder and the design offers significant benefits which cannot be achieved with more traditional manufacturing techniques," Barnes said.
    
"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," said Oventus CEO, Neil Anderson.
    
"The new 3D printed mouthpiece bypasses all obstructions by having airways that deliver air to the back of the throat and it will also stop patients from snoring," Anderson said.
    
The device is expected to be available to patients next year.

(Agencies)

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