University of Pennsylvania Researchers Develop Microscopic Robots for Removing Dental Plaque

Image courtesy of American Dental Association.

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A team of University of Pennsylvania researchers have developed robots, comprised of iron oxide nanoparticles that  can kill, degrade and remove biofilm under laboratory conditions.  The research was funded in part by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research and the National Science Foundation.

“This is the first time that ‘kill-degrade-remove’ is achieved simultaneously for complete biofilm eradication,” said Dr. Hyun (Michel) Koo of the school of dental medicine, one of the lead researchers. “It directly tackles all facets of biofilm resistance mechanisms, both the antimicrobial drug resistance and resistance to mechanical clearance of these sticky structures.”

Currently, plaque biofilm is treated chemically with anti-microbials, manually with dental instruments or conjointly with the two. The researchers developed two different types of robotic systems. The first system suspends iron oxide nanoparticles in a solution of hydrogen peroxide and enzymes. The nanoparticles activate the hydrogen peroxide to release free radicals that can kill microbes and break down matrix. Once that catalytic disruption of the biofilm is initiated, the nanoparticles are controlled by a magnetic field to remove the biofilm debris without negatively impacting nearby host tissues.

The second system involves embedding nanoparticles into a gel to form 3D robots molded into specific forms to remove biofilms from small spaces and crevices. Both systems were extensively tested on various surfaces, including extracted human teeth. Although clinical studies will need to take place before further steps are taken, the potential of this dental solution looks promising.

According to extensive market research conducted by iData Research, the aging American population is by far the main driver of the dental materials market. As the baby boomer generation reaches retirement, their dental needs compound. This generation reached 70 yearsof age in 2016. They are projected to live longer than previous generations, and therefore are more likely to invest in their teeth during the remainder of their lives. Consequently, the demand for dental materials will increase due to this generation’s need for more crowns and bridges, and direct restorations.

“Existing treatments are ineffective because they are incapable of simultaneously degrading the protective matrix, killing the embedded bacteria and physically removing the biodegraded products,” Dr. Koo said. “These robots can do all three at once very effectively, leaving no trace of biofilm whatsoever.”


For Further Information

More on the dental materials market in the US can be found in a series of reports published by iData entitled the US Market Report Suite for Dental Materials.

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