When Will Cheek Implants Be Done By 3D Printing?

Q: Dr. Eppley, I am interested in getting jaw and cheek implants, but I am waiting until there is a more natural choice. I want implants that integrate with the bone so I won’t have to worry about shifting. I’ve read online that some doctors have been able to 3D print bones that integrate with the bone. How long until this is applied to cosmetic surgery?

A: If your primary concern about cheek and jaw implants is that they will shift, there is a far simpler technique available today that ensures that will not happen…known as screw fixation. Securing the implant to the bone with small titanium screws ensures that it will never move and is a technique of implant fixation that I do to just about every facial implant that I place. I have used that implant technique for over twenty years and I have yet to see a facial implant that has yet moved from where I placed it.

When it comes to 3D printing of any human tissue, this topic has been in the news of late and is a technology that is quite early in its development. All the recent press releases demonstrate that it can technically be done. But that is far cry from being able to do it in humans for real surgery. I do believe that one day such technology will be available for surgical use but, at a minimum, it will be 10 to 15 years due to FDA regulations and the clinical approval process which is involved in getting it through those hurdles. This does not take into account the economics of the process in which a company has to invest millions (or tens of millions) to get it through that regulatory process. And a company will only do that if the market in which they are developing their product for justifies that expense. The facial implant market would not be considered such a market by today’s standards.

Dr. Barry Eppley

Indianapolis, Indiana