Computer-designed, 3-D-printed models are emerging as a useful new tool for planning and carrying out cosmetic plastic surgery of the nose, reports a paper in the June issue of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, the official medical journal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS).

Customized, life-sized, 3-D-printed, models can provide a useful visual reference in the operating room for plastic surgeons performing rhinoplasty, according to a special "Ideas and Innovations" article by ASPS Member Surgeon Bardia Amirlak, MD, FACS, of University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, and colleagues.

They noted, "Patient-specific 3-D-printed models reflecting the actual 3-D anatomy provides additional visual and tactile information to the surgeon, which may contribute to achieving the desired clinical result."

Printed 3-D Models Provide Visual Guide for Rhinoplasty

In recent years, digital imaging technology has become widely used in planning many types of plastic and reconstructive surgery procedures. When discussing cosmetic surgery, the ability to create 3-D "before and after" images showing the patient's current appearance and the planned results of surgery has been a valuable aid to the preoperative consultation between patient and surgeon.

For Dr. Amirlak and colleagues, the growing availability of 3-D printing technology provides a logical next step: using 3-D digital images to create printed models of the proposed appearance of the new nose.

Once the patient and surgeon agree on the "idealized outcome" of rhinoplasty, the digital images of the patient's current appearance and simulated outcome are converted into 3-D-printed models. Full-color models are printed using gypsum powder providing a more detailed and lifelike appearance than with 3-D printing using polymer resin.

Three-dimensional printed models can also help to improve communication with the patient before surgery, Dr. Amirlak and colleagues have found. The models take about a week to create, with an average cost of $300.

They noted, "The tactile feedback and ease of visualization from different angles and profiles have complemented the 2-D and 3-D photographs, making the surgical possibilities and limitations of the procedure easier to understand for the patient."

Rhinoplasty sometimes called a "nose job" or nose reshaping is a common yet challenging procedure for plastic surgeons. It is one of the most frequently performed types of cosmetic surgery. About 219,000 rhinoplasty procedures were performed in the United States in 2017, according to ASPS statistics.

"Given the complexity of rhinoplasty, 3-D printing may be a natural fit as part of the surgical care of these patients," Dr. Amirlak and coauthors noted. In addition to improving the preoperative consultation process and providing a guide to the surgeon during the procedure, they believe that 3-D printing technology "has numerous prospective clinical and research uses in aesthetic surgery."