Cleft lip and palate repair is a delicate procedure, and the outcome is sometimes hard to predict. One wrong move inside the tiny mouth of a 1-year-old could mean a child with speech defects, problems eating, or lifelong problems breathing. Training for the surgery takes years of practice — surgeons are still improving 10 years after they graduate, said Dr. Christopher Forrest, chair of plastic surgery and reconstructive surgery at the University of Toronto.

“It’s where I get the biggest level of coronary spasm,” said Forrest, of watching apprentice surgeons take the lead. “It requires measurement in millimeters, familiarity with the nuances of anatomy, and the tissues are particularly fragile.”

For years, no other model existed. But in Toronto, a plastic surgery resident at SickKids Hospital has fused his engineering and medical skills to build 3-D printed models that resemble children’s mouths. They’ve been a welcome innovation.