How Tooth-in-eye Surgery Works


The Rare Cyborg Eye
Cosmetically, tooth-in-eye surgery results don’t mimic the look of the natural eye, but the procedure can successfully restore sight to people who are out of other options.
Cosmetically, tooth-in-eye surgery results don’t mimic the look of the natural eye, but the procedure can successfully restore sight to people who are out of other options.
©Joe Raedle/Getty Images

In spite of improvements in medical technologies, tooth-in-eye surgery is still relatively complex and costly. Although it's been around for decades, it wasn't performed in the U.S. until 2009.

The doctor-patient interaction is extensive and occurs over the course of several months. This includes pre-operation evaluation, two surgeries and follow-up visits. The surgeries themselves are complex. Each of the operations may last between four and six hours.

Because of the complexity and potential for side effects, doctors will perform the procedure on only one eye, even if the other eye is blinded as well. That leaves a "spare" just in case the MOOKP fails and the doctors need to try again. Happily, when it works, the results tend to last. After nine years, more than 70 percent of patients retain their best possible visual sharpness [source: Falcinelli et al.].

Few doctors have the training necessary for MOOKP. It takes years to master the procedure. And not many hospitals specialize in providing this service. Those two factors are the reason that the total number of procedures is still in the hundreds and not the thousands.

There's also the fact that some people are put off by the final appearance of MOOKP patients. The eye loses much of its natural look, replaced by a skinlike eye punctuated in the middle by a black hole. The overall effect has been compared to a sci-fi cyborg eye, which for some people may be a selling point but for others feels disfiguring.

The reality is that MOOKP is reserved for worst-case scenarios in which no other surgical techniques will work. If you're in a condition where tooth-in-eye surgery is your only option, you've likely already explored every other possibility.

When it's necessary, though, MOOKP offers hope to people who otherwise may otherwise never see again. With just a bit of material from their own teeth, they may have the joy of experiencing blue skies and fluffy clouds, the sight of their families and take in the joy of simply being able to walk city streets, soaking up the colors and textures all around them.

Author's Note: How Tooth-in-eye Surgery Works

Without my glasses, I'm legally blind. I can't read a book or drive a car. To make a sandwich I'd have to hunch over a kitchen countertop to make sure I wasn't squirting mustard all over the floor. Still, I consider myself very fortunate to have the gift of vision, no matter how imperfect. For people who have lost all of their sight, I can only imagine how happy they are to have the option of tooth-in-eye surgery. It's a weird operation, but if it's your only option it would still be preferable to being blind for the rest of your life.

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Sources

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  • Cox, Lauren. "Blind Woman Sees with 'Tooth-in-Eye' Surgery." ABC News. Sept. 17, 2009. (July 17, 2015) http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Technology/woman-regains-vision-tooth-implanted-eye/story?id=8595589
  • Falcinelli, Giancarlo et al. "Modified Osteo-odonto-keratoprothesis for Treatment of Corneal Blindness: Long-term Anatomical and Functional Outcomes in 181 Cases." JAMA Ophthalmology. Vol. 123, No. 10. Oct. 1, 2005. (July 17, 2015) http://archopht.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=417283
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  • Royal College of Ophthalmologists Guidelines. "Modern Osteo-odonto-keratoprosthesis (OOKP) surgery." Moorsfields Eye Hospital Ophthalmic Research Network. (July 17, 2015) http://www.moorfieldsresearch.org.uk/orntemp/Quality/RGov/Guidelines/ookp.htm
  • Shetty, Lakhsmi et al. "A New Vision Through Combined Osteo-odonto-keratoplasty: A Review." Medical Journal of Dr. D.Y. Patil University. Vol. 7, Issue 3. Pages 272-277. 2014. (July 17, 2015) http://www.mjdrdypu.org/article.asp?issn=0975-2870;year=2014;volume=7;issue=3;spage=272;epage=277;aulast=Shetty
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