Curing blindness with a tooth transplant

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In a case of truth being stranger than fiction, Australian doctors have used trailblazing new surgery to restore patients’ sight by transplanting a tooth into the eye.

The procedure, known as osteo-odonto-keratoprosthesis, is used to restore sight in people who have lost their vision through cornea scarring – from a burn, auto-immune disease or splash injury.

Pindara Private Hospital oral and maxillofacial surgeon Dr Shannon Webber, who performed the surgery alongside ophthalmologist Dr Greg Moloney, said the two patients who had the surgery were reading newspapers within a day with no assistance.

“As surgeons, we all want to change lives, and it was very special to be able to give someone the gift of sight back,” Dr Webber said.

The surgery has been performed on two Australian patients, who collectively been blind for 50 years, allowing them to see their families for the first time.

Dr Webber described the multi-stage procedure, which begins with a tissue graft harvested from inside the patient’s cheek and securing it to the muscles that move the eye.

“At the same time, a tooth is then delicately removed, cut down to size and contoured before drilling a fine hole through the centre of the tooth – allowing a small optical cylinder to be cemented into place.

“The tooth is then placed in a pocket of the opposite cheek, where tissue gradually grows around it,” Dr Webber said.

Several months later the final stage transplants the tooth to the front of the eye.

“This allows light in and patients to get their vision back,” said Dr Webber.

The surgery has been performed overseas, but the Australian team modified the operation by creating better blood supply to the eye using the patient’s own scalp tissue – a world first.

“This prevents the bone dissolving around the tooth, reducing the failure rate of the surgery further,” said Dr Webber.

Patient John Ings said he could now get around his day-to-day life without glasses.

“You take your sight for granted and you’ve got to lose it and then regain it, I think, to really appreciate it,” he said.

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