MASKS, AT THE PUSH OF A BUTTON

 

Trojan Dental Family members retool lab to 3-D print masks rated higher than N95 during the coronavirus crisis.

 

AS A RESULT OF THE CORONAVIRUS’ SPREAD, business had already begun to slow at Burbank Dental Lab, a family-owned lab that fabricates dental restorations, including dental implants, crowns and dentures.

 

But, on March 19, when California Governor Gavin Newsom ordered a statewide shelter-in-place effort to slow the spread of the deadly virus — and most dentists stopped treating patients — all of the lab’s eight 3-D printers went silent.

 

Enter Lawrence Fung DH ’07, DDS ’11, MBV ’15, a volunteer dentist for USC Athletics and Ostrow’s Board of Governors representative, whose own practice had been shuttered, due to the ever-evolving COVID-19 situation.

 

“I was like, ‘Alright, well what can I do? I can either sit at home and do nothing, just complain and stress over everything, or I can be productive and proactive and help in some way,’” Fung told the USC Ripsit Blog.

 

Fung wanted to help, so he approached Burbank Dental Lab — which partners with the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry — with an open-source file for printing 3-D masks, which the lab began to prototype.

 

HEADED TO THE FRONTLINES

 

The lab’s owners — patriarch Tony Sedler, matriarch Yana Sedler, daughter Diana Sedler DDS ’16, PERIO ’19 and son Andrew Sedler — thought the prototype could use some retooling and began consulting with medical professionals.

 

They wanted to make sure the masks fit securely, were pliant enough for comfort and allowed free range of motion, without worry the mask could be knocked off.

 

“These are meant to go to the frontlines,” Andrew Sedler says. “This is personalized, high-end PPE [personal protective equipment] that is meant to protect the people who are protecting us.”

 

To improve the mask’s design, the team brought in George Jaber ’08, DDS ’13, an adjunct assistant professor of clinical dentistry at the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC.

 

Related: Dentists Creating, Donating 3D Masks to Health Care Workers

 

A board-certified dentist anesthesiologist, Jaber brought a unique perspective to further refine the mask, including ensuring the mask properly fit on the face, creating a seal that would not allow in any outside particles and allowing space for goggles to be worn. He also suggested that, rather than crafting or printing a filtration system, the team rely on a circuit filter, a replaceable filter rated higher than N95 that is used for anesthesia and in ventilators.

 

The filter, which is readily available in operating rooms and intensive care units across the country, can last up to 24 hours of continuous use, before needing replacement.

 

“I didn’t even think twice when they asked me to help,” says Jaber, who worked the frontlines during the Ebola virus crisis in New York City during his advanced training in anesthesiology. “I remember how that felt when I was there, doing the same thing. So now I’m happy to help those on the frontlines.”

 

The masks, made from the same pliant material as night guards used to prevent teeth grinding, are durable — reusable up to at least a year. “And since it’s plastic on the outside, all you do is as you’re going from patient to patient, room to room, you take an alcohol wipe, quickly wipe down your mask and then you just keep going ahead,” Andrew Sedler explains.

 

PPE SHORTAGES IN THE ICU

 

Each of Burbank Dental’s eight 3-D printers can yield three masks at a time — a cycle that takes four hours. They can make up to 36 masks a day and have already produced nearly 200 that have been distributed to hospitals across Los Angeles as well as to friends in the medical field on the East Coast.

 

“It was scary these stories we were hearing from the nurses,” Diana Sedler says. “One of my friends did come down with the virus, and she was home for two weeks, so to hear these stories, it just hit home.”

 

Related: A Hero Comes Along

 

One of the recipients of the mask was Tali Lee, a registered nurse at a local intensive care unit. Lee says she first started seeing a spike in patients with COVID-19 in mid-May — and, with them, a sudden shortage of PPE.

 

“All PPE had to be centralized so that they can be distributed evenly among those who need them,” she says. “I personally had reached out to community resources and local media for assistance to find alternatives.”

 

One of Lee’s colleagues knew of the Burbank Dental initiative and introduced Lee to the Sedlers. Lee has since taken the mask to hospital leadership within the intensive care unit and emergency room to determine if the masks can be used safely and efficiently on a larger scale.

 

“This is so overwhelming — the community support and other practices helping us to battle this invisible enemy,” Lee says. “Diana took it upon herself to make a difference and use her knowledge to help. We all took an oath as healthcare providers to help our communities, and this is a great example.”

 

MAKING A DIFFERENCE

 

Until now, Burbank Dental Lab has used all of its own resources — more than $60,000 in the plastic material alone — to fund this endeavor. They are not currently selling the masks, but as their plastic material supply begins to run low, they are open to donations of the material, KeySplint Soft Clear for Carbon Printers, which sells for $470 a bottle.

 

“If people want to get one, we say this ‘Buy us a bottle of material, and we will print a mask out for you,’” Andrew Sedler says, “and anything else gets donated.” Each bottle can create 6 to 8 masks, he adds.

 

“We’re not looking for credit on this,” Andrew Sedler says. “We’re just looking to propagate these masks and get them out there. My nightmare is not running out of these masks. My nightmare is running out of doctors and healthcare workers who can help us.”

 

“By doing this with my family, I get to see the smiles on these doctors’ and nurses’ faces when they see their mask because they’re so excited to have something that will actually protect them.”
—Diana Sedler DDS '16, PERIO '19

 

Because of the “Safer at Home” social distancing campaign, Diana Sedler, who had been practicing as a periodontist for six months, is temporarily out of work, giving her the time to focus exclusively on this effort.

 

“For me, my job was never really a job because I love to see a smile on people’s faces,” she says. “By doing this with my family, I get to see the smiles on these doctors’ and nurses’ faces when they see their mask because they’re so excited to have something that will actually protect them.”

 

For Fung’s part, he has continued with the various hospitals on research and development, most recently producing COVID-19 testing swabs and other printed PPE materials.

 

“None of this would have been possible if I didn’t have my USC contacts,” he told the USC Ripsit Blog. “Now that everyone’s stuck inside, people naturally feel alone. But with USC and the Trojan Family, if you choose not to be alone, you’re not going to be alone. Because you can always reach out to a Trojan.”

 

If you would like to help with this endeavor, visit burbankdental.com/save-lives/.

 

Editor’s Note: USC cannot endorse the overall effectiveness of these masks. Please consult an expert in infection control to ensure the proper use of protective gear.