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An eye tooth gives the gift of sight.

Posted Oct 07 2009 10:57am

images[6] Tooth bone and ligament have a better chance of living around the eye than a lot of other materials.

At the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, Dr. Victor Perez removed Sharron “Kay” Thornton’s canine tooth (eye tooth), and gave sight to the Mississippi woman who was blind for the past nine years.

Kay can see 20/70 after one of her own teeth was surgically implanted in one of her eyes. She will be able to see her 7 grandchildren for the first time.

1. Dr. Perez assembled a team and spent the next 2 years learning the MOOKP procedure developed in Italy in 1963. They flew to Italy and flew Italian experts to Miami, practiced with cadaver teeth, and made trial versions of what they would do with Kay’s tooth.

2. Doctors removed one of Kay’s canine teeth (eye teeth) along with part of her jaw and cut it all down to a shape small enough to replace the cornea. The doctors  drilled a hole into it to insert a lens. The implant spent a couple of months in Kay’s shoulder so the tooth could bind to the lens in a sufficiently.
3.The doctors placed a cheek graft over Kay’s eye to promote moisture to prep her eye to receive the tooth and lens. The final tooth-lens product was removed from Kay’s shoulder and placed in the center of her eye, in line with her retina.

4.A hole was cut in the damaged cornea and a clear acrylic tube was custom-made to allow light in,  like cutting a hole in the wall and sticking a telescope through it. Without something to hold the tube in place, the system fails. That’s where the tooth comes in.

5. They sliced the root into a tiny plank and stuck the tube through the plank, then rested the plank/tube combination over the hole in her cornea.

This Labor Day weekend (3 years after doctor and patient met), the bandages came off. At a news conference Wednesday, Kay took off her glasses. A tube like the end of a coffee stirrer poked through a tender skin graft covering the rest of her eye and holding the tooth in place.

The tiny tube darted around the room. “I can see some of your figures,” she said. “The lights are so bright. If the lights were dimmer I could see better.”
Kay’s corneas were scarred  by Stevens-Johnson syndrome, a rare, life-threatening condition that causes outer layers of skin to separate from inner layers. The rest of her eyes were fine, but the lens’ of her “cameras” were too dirty.

Dr. Perez said the vision in Kay’s eye is about 20/70 right now and  with a magnifying glass she can read a newspaper. Over time and with glasses, her vision will be almost normal again. Dr. Perez estimated that there are about 200 U.S patients like Thornton, but said the treatment may also help Iraq war veterans with corneal scarring from explosion burns.

What I know for sure is that it’s all connected.

Saundra Goodman
Got Teeth? A Survivor’s Guide
How to keep your teeth or live without them.

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