WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- The subjects of dental appliances and ejection seats may seem worlds apart to most, but for two Wright-Patterson Air Force Base organizations they met to solve a persistent research obstacle at the 711th Human Performance Wing.
It was Tech. Sgt. Jeffery Bolles, a former 88th Medical Group member and now in the 711th HPW, who identified the problem. He discovered it after transferring to the 711th’s Applied Neuroscience Branch in 2015 to become the Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge of the Medical Monitoring program.
“What we are doing is looking at the physical impact of the ejection process on human subjects during all three phases of ejection,’ Bolles said of some of the work being done in the Applied Neuroscience Branch.
Those human subjects Bolles mentioned are all volunteers and, through the course of the program, they experience the physical results of ejection as approximated using different types of simulations. As a result of these test measurements, new ways can be developed to mitigate the stresses and impact of an actual ejection event.
Bolles noted that one of the measuring devices … an accelerometer attached to a commercial-off-the-shelf mouth guard … used in monitoring the effects on the body produced by the ejection seat simulator was not adequate nor reliable. Often the accelerometer would become dislodged during the test and even fall away from the mouth guard producing spotty or inaccurate measurements.
“They were using boil and bite … like you would get at a sporting goods store … mouth guards and we would attach our accelerometer for our data at the end of them,” Bolles said. “They didn’t fit well, they fell out. From what I heard they had about a 50 percent success rate.”
Bolles wasn’t satisfied and believed he knew exactly where he could go to get the best help to produce more consistent and accurate results.
“I called the Med Group, having just come from over there,” Bolles said. “I knew someone in the Dental Lab and I said, ‘Here’s what we need. Here’s what we’re looking for. Can you help us out in this?’”
At the Dental Lab, Staff Sgt. Bryan Lichty, 88th Dental Squadron, Dental Laboratory technician, said they were ready to accept the challenge of helping Bolles.
“They asked if we could make any kind of custom piece that could fit an accelerometer and make sure that it stays secure in the mouth and could also attach an accelerometer to it,” Lichty said. “They gave us an idea and kind of a prototype of what they would want.
The Dental Lab technicians went to work on a prototype and created it using dental materials which involved acrylic with mix of monomer. Monomers are the building blocks of more complex molecules, called polymers which forms into a resin which is very dense and very structurally sound. It is the same material that retainers and hard night guards are made from.
“We have a machine that will thermoform this material down onto the patient’s cast which a representation of the patient’s dentition,” Lichty said.
The cast is made from a dental impression taken from each individual going into the program to create a custom-fitted device.
“It forms around there and we attach the upper and lower mouth guard with acrylic resin to the attachment (which is the carrier for the accelerometer) between the two,” Lichty added. “It is of a nice secure fit of the upper and the lower jaws, but also be able to attach an accelerometer.
Lichty and the Dental Lab technicians produced a working model of what Sergeant Bolles was looking for. They continued to refine the device after learning what did and what did not work.
The result of the Dental Lab’s labors is a dental appliance, soft on the inside and hard on the outside, which fits the upper and lower jaw and, most importantly for Bolles, it provides a stable platform to hold the accelerometer.
Other side benefits of that collaboration that Bolles noted was the cost, flexibility and the ease of providing feedback leading to those modifications.
Now volunteers, as a routine part of the program’s medical clearance process, go to the dental lab and are fitted with the appliance which is then used during each test event.
“With these they say that the mouth guard stays in; the accelerometer stays attached,” Lichty said. “They say 100 percent, data captured. They are very pleased with the results.”
“The data that we are getting now is a lot more accurate,” Bolles said of the device which now consistently provides valuable data for their important ejection seat research. “It turned out pretty well for us!”
Bolles also praised the Dental Lab for their help and he said that he would give them an A+ for their efforts.
“They have adapted and modified for us as we have gone through the process,” Bolles said. “It has been invaluable and it’s been a great collaboration between the two of us!”