LSU Health Dental Schools Aims to Produce PPE for Providers

“I want to be able to provide my residents as well as all other residents, faculty, staff, and all healthcare providers, not only at University Medical Center, but at other LSU Health teaching hospitals, and those across the country with the very best protection possible,” said Robert Laughlin, DDS, MD, chairman of oral and maxillofacial surgery at LSU Health New Orleans School of Dentistry.

His concern for and admiration of those combating COVID-19 on the front lines of patient care are what drove a collaboration that is producing reusable personal protective equipment (PPE) that affords the highest level of protection. With the shortage of disposable N95 masks as well as the filters for the reusable ones, Laughlin approached Dr. Karen Bruggers, head of prosthodontics at LSU Health New Orleans School of Dentistry, with the idea of using the School’s 3D printers in a new way.

They developed a prototype N95 mask with an added feature. The mask itself is made of a complex polymer, a hardened material that can easily be cleaned with a disinfectant and then reused.

“In order to provide filtration, we have coupled these with an inline anesthesia filter, which has an N99 filter inside that prevents 99.99% of bacteria and viruses from passing through the filter,” said Laughlin. “The filter inserts into the mask.”

The project also includes printing visors of the same polymers to which a comfortable foam band is attached as the framework for face shields. These provide a barrier against aerosol and respiratory droplets. They too can be disinfected and reused and are needed for LSU Health New Orleans dentists and oral surgeons who are treating dental emergencies, as well as those working in the hospitals.

Bruggers assembled a team of Dr. Alika Yu, director of laboratory services and associate professor of clinical prosthodontics, Dr. Jorge Palavicini, assistant professor of prosthodontics, and four dental laboratory techs – Suleiman Hamdan, Paul Nguyen, Julio Zavala, and Edwin Kee – to work on the project.

“They have converted the 3D printers that are normally used to print models, surgical guides, splints, and dentures to making PPE,” Bruggers explains.

“One of the limiting factors is the speed at which the equipment can produce this PPE,” said Laughlin. “We have applied for a grant to obtain high-speed equipment that would increase our production multifold in getting this invaluable equipment out.”

“They are producing as fast as they can, and we are happy to get them where they are needed,” noted Bruggers.

One of those places is the ICU at University Medical Center. Along with LSU Health New Orleans Pulmonary Critical Care faculty and residents, Laughlin’s Oral Surgery residents are taking care of the sickest COVID-19 patients there now.