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Surgical guides made easy

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. (Dr.) Richard Buck, 48th Dental Squadron Dental Lab flight commander, places a dental surgical guide on the mold of a person’s mouth at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, July 13. The guides show dentists where to drill when inserting a dental implant. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Abby L. Finkel)

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. (Dr.) Richard Buck, 48th Dental Squadron Dental Lab flight commander, places a dental surgical guide on the mold of a person’s mouth at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, July 13. The guides show dentists where to drill when inserting a dental implant. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Abby L. Finkel)

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. David Marshall, 48th Maintenance Group Air Force Repair and Enhancement Program manager, prepares the 3-D printer to create a dental surgical guide at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, July 8. The printer creates 3-D objects by printing in 0.1 mm layers. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Abby L. Finkel)

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. David Marshall, 48th Maintenance Group Air Force Repair and Enhancement Program manager, prepares the 3-D printer to create a dental surgical guide at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, July 8. The printer creates 3-D objects by printing in 0.1 mm layers. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Abby L. Finkel)

The 48th Fighter Wing Air Force Repair and Enhancement Program’s 3-D printer creates the bottom layers of a dental surgical guide at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, July 8. The 3-D printer first prints an outline, then continues printing 0.1 mm layers until the guide is complete. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Abby L. Finkel)

The 48th Fighter Wing Air Force Repair and Enhancement Program’s 3-D printer creates the bottom layers of a dental surgical guide at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, July 8. The 3-D printer first prints an outline, then continues printing 0.1 mm layers until the guide is complete. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Abby L. Finkel)

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Tracy Roberts, 48th Dental Squadron NCOIC, fixed element, works on a surgical dental guide at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, July 13. After receiving the guides, the dental lab smooths down any rough spots before use in surgery. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Abby L. Finkel)

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Tracy Roberts, 48th Dental Squadron NCOIC, fixed element, works on a surgical dental guide at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, July 13. After receiving the guides, the dental lab smooths down any rough spots before use in surgery. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Abby L. Finkel)

ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England -- While a missing tooth is likely not life-threatening, it can be an inconvenience or aesthetically displeasing.

Dental implants are one of the methods dentists use to fix this problem.

There are multiple ways for a dentist to insert an implant, but one of the most accurate methods is by using a dental surgical guide.

For the 48th Dental Squadron, however, getting surgical guides made and delivered in a timeframe that meets their patients’ needs has proven to be a challenge.

Working out of a tidy workshop by the flightline, the Air Force Repair and Enhancement Program is partnering with the dental lab to print dental surgical guides using a 3-D printer.

"It comes down to availability and speed of care for not only military members, but also dependents," said Master Sgt. David Marshall, 48th Maintenance Group AFREP manager.

Before working with AFREP, the dental lab would send the dental scans to San Antonio. There, the scans were put into planning software and turned into a 3-D graphic guide capable of being replicated on a 3-D printer.

"The hard part was San Antonio sending the guides back to us,” said Lt. Col. Richard Buck, 48th DS Dental Lab flight commander.

At best, it took at least three to four weeks for the guides to arrive in England, he said.

The collaboration with AFREP saved time and money.

The printed guides travel across base, rather than across an ocean, to get to the dental lab. The partnership also ensures the dental lab receives the guides in time for surgery.

"If we're going to improve the quality of life for active duty and dependents, then this helps us do it in a more effective fashion," Buck said.

The dental lab plans to further streamline the process by printing the guides on their own in-house 3-D printer.