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Dentistry and innovation

  • A blog discussing recent developments in technology which could change the way teeth are cleaned and maintained

    By Naomi Todd

In 2016, I wrote a blog on the topic of “nanodentistry” and the prospect of “nanorobots” making instant diagnoses and enabling maintenance of near-perfect oral health. I have not seen much progress of this area; rather technology for dentists has tended to centre on the 3D printing world, which seems to have no limits at the moment.

Then, I recently stumbled upon an article about a microscopic robot cleaning crew. This is the product of an unlikely but fruitful collaboration between the School of Dental Medicine and the School of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Pennsylvania. They have published a paper entitled “Catalytic antimicrobial robots for biofilm eradication”. The writers said:

“Treating biofilms that occur on teeth requires a great deal of manual labor, both on the part of the consumer and the professional….

…We hope to improve treatment options as well as reduce the difficulty of care.”

In a nod to other uses for this technology, the report clarified that Biofilms can arise on biological surfaces, such as on a tooth, or in a joint on objects, like water pipes, implants, or catheters. Wherever biofilms form, they are notoriously difficult to remove, as the sticky matrix that holds the bacteria provides protection from antimicrobial agents.

The team manufactured CARs (catalytic antimicrobial robots. See, there was a reason for the impenetrable title of the paper) capable of degrading and removing biofilms. The first involves suspending iron-oxide nanoparticles in a solution, which can then be directed by magnets to remove biofilms on a surface in a plow-like manner. The second platform entails embedding the nanoparticles into gel molds in three-dimensional shapes. These were used to target and destroy biofilms clogging enclosed tubes.

When tested on teeth, the CARs were able to degrade and remove bacterial biofilms not just from a tooth surface, but from one of the most difficult-to-access parts of a tooth. This is called the isthmus, which is a narrow corridor between root canals where biofilms commonly grow.

It is obvious to see that the implications of this technology could be widespread. It is another example of dentistry leading the way with innovation.


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