Tooth in the eye restores sight

Ian Tibbetts, 43, has seen the faces of his twin boys for the first time after a pioneering surgery to restore his sight by a leading surgeon. The surgery involved implanting one of his teeth into his eyes.

Ian Tibbetts first went blind after an industrial accident damaged his cornea, ripping it in six places, leading to blindness in one eye. One year later, he lost the sight in his left, rendering him totally blind. This means that he hadn’t seen the faces of his four-year-old sons Callum and Ryan, instead witnessing their growth in the form of blurry shapes.

The surgery was carried out by ophthalmic surgeon Christopher Liu at the Sussex Eye Hospital in Brighton. The procedure is called osteo-odonto-keratoprothesis (OOKP), and is revolutionary.

The complex surgery is a two-part procedure. Firstly, the tooth and part of the jaw are removed. A lens is inserted into the tooth using a small drill. The tooth with the lens is then implanted under the eye socket. This allows the tooth to grow tissues and develop a blood supply. Once this has been confirmed, the second part of the surgery can happen. Part of the cornea is sliced open and removed and the tooth is stitched into the eye socket. As the tooth is the patient’s own tissue, the body does not reject it, which means that the patient doesn’t have to be on immunosuppressive drugs like most transplant patients.

The operation on his left eye has meant the return of 40% of his vision.

Professor Liu said: 'OOKP is not guaranteed to restore sight but it does have a high success rate.

'Patients who have the surgery are often able to see immediately and the quality of sight can be extraordinarily good. 'However it is only suitable for certain types of blindness, specifically patients who have severe and irreversible corneal damage.’

'It is a complex procedure and takes a good five years to master it. But to be able to restore the sight of someone who has been blind for many years is an immense privilege.'

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