August 14, 2000
Volume XXXIII, No. 31


HSC Profiles

In Memoriam



Allied Health faculty teach Hollywood-style prosthetics

Allied Health

Just ask five-time Academy Award winner Rick Baker what it took to transform Eddie Murphy into five distinct people for "Nutty Professor II: The Klumps," this summer’s comedy.

The results are larger than life. Thanks to the professional makeup artist, audiences can’t tell where Eddie ends and the Klumps begin. While Department of Dental Laboratory Technology faculty at the Health Science Center can’t promise to put their students in the film industry, they’re assured they’ll make a larger-than-life impact for patients who find life a little less than humorous.

"Techniques in creating prosthetic appliances have been refined; it’s much easier to achieve more lifelike and longer-lasting results with today’s materials, such as the newer composites and porcelains used for teeth, and the silicones used for patients who have lost a part of their anatomy," said Tom Anthony, an Allied Health Sciences School associate professor and certified dental technician. "Some patients go home after surgery and hide in the back room with the light off. We teach students to give patients a little of what they’ve lost—their self-esteem."

Instructor watching student apply wax to prosthetic appliance mold.

Assistant Professor Thomas Anthony, M.S., a certified dental technician (left), observes as Eman Al-Otaibi, a preceptorship student, applies wax to a mold for a prosthetic appliance.

These technologists first make an impression of the area the patient has lost due to cancer, surgery or an accident. Similar to creating Hollywood-style effects, the impression is then poured into a mold. Next, the defect area is sculpted with wax or clay to smooth out any imperfection and approximate, as closely as possible, the patient’s features. Once the flaws are corrected, a mold is made and a silicone substance is added to form a nose, cheek, ear or the entire central part of the patient’s face. But the new lifelike features have to be held firmly in place.

"When a patient has to have a fairly large appliance, the surgeon will insert implants, similar to screws placed in bone to hold the appliance," said Anthony, who has 12 years’ experience in the field. "A complicated case can take up to a week to get the first appliance in place."

A week might seem like a year for some patients once they’ve taken the first step in seeking help.

"Some patients ask that we make several appliances once they’ve seen the difference in their lives," said Anthony.

He also manages one-year preceptorships. During this special course of study, students get one-on-one instruction. The average student, said Anthony, needs to have knowledge in physics, anatomy and chemistry to qualify for this training. Each fall the regularly scheduled Allied Health course, which teaches students the art of creating prosthetic appliances and restoring self-esteem for patients who have lost hope, seats 24 students.

These would-be masters of "the make-over" also can use their expertise to form dentures or replace an eye socket and the eye with an appliance so lifelike that is is hard to distinguish from a real eye.

"We teach the students to make appliances compatible with the physiology of the patient and also to be aesthetically pleasing," said Anthony, who notes an increase in patients who have oral cancers because of chewing tobacco.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. output of moist snuff rose 50 percent over a 10-year period, from 41 million pounds in 1988 to an estimated 61 million pounds in 1998. According to the 1997 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, about 15.8 percent of male high school students used chewing tobacco or snuff in 1997. Oral cancer occurs several times more frequently among snuff dippers than among non-tobacco users. The excess risk of cancer of the cheek and gum may reach nearly 50-fold among long-term snuff users.

The mouth is defined as anything forward of the last molar and up to the lips, and includes the part of the tongue seen in the mirror, the hard palate and the insides of the cheeks—all areas that may need drastic surgery when oral cancer has advanced. It’s critical to get prompt diagnosis and proper treatment for an oral cancer problem, Anthony said, because it can make the difference between mutilating surgery or an excellent cosmetic result.

"We’ve seen an increase in patients with oral cancer and have had to make appliances to help cover the effects of surgery," said Anthony. "We’re here to restore a sense of normalcy for people who need our services."