Layer Of Protection

Face shield frames sit in front of 3D printers at Park Dental Research in Ardmore, Oklahoma. The company has shifted from making dental implants in an effort to help health care workers dealing with a shortage of protective equipment.
Photo submitted

When businesses started making drastic changes earlier this month to slow the spread of COVID-19, Dr. Ron Bulard also had to figure out how he could help fight the disease. As the CEO of Park Dental Research, an Ardmore-based business that makes dental implants, Bulard knew he had the capabilities to make an impact.

Now 3D printing machines that normally turn out dental implants are making face shields for health care workers in areas where resources like masks and respirators are scarce. Bulard said he currently has orders for 15,000 of the disposable shields for health care workers in New York and California. “As you know, every dental office is closed so our business is slower. It’s really been something that we’ve been able to stay open to help,” Bulard said by phone on Monday.

Over 100 of the 3D printing machines turn out about 500 shields each day, according to Bulard. Each shield covers a health care worker’s entire face and can help extend the effectiveness of masks that are also in extremely short supply.

A common way for health care workers to protect themselves from the virus is by properly using N95 masks, a type of respirator also used by carpenters and construction workers. Bulard said the masks normally have to be changed by health care workers between patient visits, but a shortage of the masks makes that difficult.

“With a face shield over the front of his face, he doesn’t necessarily have to change the mask between every patient,” Bulard said of healthcare workers. “The plastic is easy to make. It’s hard to make an N95 mask.” The idea of shifting production from dental implants to coronavirus response came early, but face shields were not what he first had in mind. “We were willing to retool our CNC machines to make ventilator parts, but a lot of companies were already doing that,” he said. Other efforts to fast-track federal approval of a disinfectant used in Europe would take too long.

Eventually he and his staff came to the conclusion that face shields could provide almost immediate assistance. “With the talent we have here, this was a project that was easy to get behind and can deliver results quickly,” said Bulard.

He said he has been working with colleagues from the International Congress of Oral Implantologists to identify hospitals that cannot fill orders for face shields. He also said he has been in contact with health care officials in Oklahoma City but had not yet received any orders. Bulard said that many of his employees continue to work, albeit in masks and practicing social distancing. He said that his operation could actually be scaled up to produce up to three times as many shields, if the need arises and the workforce is available.

But for now, Bulard’s focus is on keeping his employees safe so the Ardmore business can continue to make an impact in the battle against COVID-19. “We want to make sure that we’re still up and running and able to help when the need reaches this area,” he said.