Kansas dentists using 3D printers to create swabs needed for COVID-19 tests

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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — It’s tough to test for the coronavirus without adequate tools.

That’s why health officials in Kansas are reaching out to dentists for help in creating testing swabs, which have become scarce nationwide. Those dentists are using 3D printers to create the swabs.

Many dentists offices across Kansas remain closed during this ongoing public health concern.

At south Overland Park’s The Art of Dentistry, Dr. Kory Kirkegaard is one of many Kansas dentists using 3D printers to create sheets of nasal swabs that are used for COVID-19 tests. A nationwide shortage of testing equipment has delayed coronavirus testing in many states.

Dentists are involved in this effort since so many of them already own 3D printers, which are sometimes used to make fittings for dentistry work. Kirkegaard explained that one printed sheet will include 300 swabs, which are made of liquid resin.

Much like influenza testing, those swabs are inserted into a coronavirus patient’s nose to collect cultures.

“These nasopharyngeal swabs are 10 inches or so — tall or long. They’ll take about 24 hours to print 300 or so of them. Once you print them, then you clean them. Then, you process them and get them ready,” Kirkegaard said.

Kirkegaard, along with Olathe’s Dr. John Fales, is one of at least two Johnson County dentists making the swabs.

They’ll go to good use soon enough. Health officials in Kansas will use the swabs at drive-thru testing sites. Dr. Kirkegaard said he hopes to deliver the first batch of swabs to state officials next week.

“That’s one of the neatest things. People started trying every way they could to make a ventilator split with their 3D printer or other things,” Kirkegaard said.

Dr. Lee Norman with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment has been instrumental in connecting with Kansas dentists, asking them to use their 3D printers creatively.

“We’ve already started enhanced testing in five counties,” Norman said. “That will allow us to broader population studies.”

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