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Tooth used to restore eyesight in radical surgery

26/04/2017
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Two Australians have had their vision completely restored thanks to a radical surgical procedure that involved sewing their teeth into their own eyeballs.

The operation – osteo-odonto-keratoprosthesis – is used to restore vision in the most severe cases of corneal and ocular surface damage, and was recently performed for the first time in the southern hemisphere by two doctors at Sydney Eye Hospital.

The complicated procedure begins with the removal of the patient’s tooth, in which a hole is drilled so that a plastic lens can be placed inside. The tooth is then sewn into the patient’s cheek, where it grows tissue over a period of several months.

“We rely on the tooth to gain its own blood and tissue supply so when it is removed from the mouth, what you have essentially is a living complex,” Dr Shannon Webber, one of the doctors who performed the procedure, told 60 Minutes.

At the same time, the entire inner surface of the eyelids, corneal surface and any scar tissue in the eye is removed, and replaced with a flap of skin and mucus membrane from inside the mouth which is sewn over the eyeball.

Image courtesy: <em>60 Minutes</em>
Image courtesy: 60 Minutes

After several months, the tooth is removed from the cheek and sewn over the patient’s blind eye and covered again with the mucus membrane skin. A hole is then cut into the skin to allow light to pass through the lens, onto the patient’s macular, and allow it to function in much the same way as a healthy cornea.

Webber, an oral and maxillofacial specialist, and oculoplastic surgeon Dr Greg Moloney, trained extensively in Germany to learn the procedure and now expect to perform the operation two or three times a year in Australia.

“It’s pretty incredible and something we have been building towards for several years. So to have done it successfully on two occasions is extremely satisfying. Both patients are doing really well,” Webber said.

Watch the video here

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