As with many small jobs, there may soon be a way to outsource tooth brushing to a robot. Engineers at the University of Pennsylvania have created a system of micro-robots that can change shape to form bristles or dental floss. Not only do they remove plaque, but they also release antimicrobial agents to kill harmful bacteria.
Daily brushing and flossing can be a chore, and even those who stick to a routine can miss areas and run into problems. Part of the problem is that tooth brushing doesn’t take into account differences in the size or spacing of different people’s teeth.
The new system effectively solves this problem by changing the size. It consists of iron oxide nanoparticles that can be assembled into various structures and controlled with magnetic fields. In this way, particles can be arranged in the form of bristles to brush plaque from tooth surfaces, or thin, floss-like strands for scrubbing between teeth.
But these micro-robots do not only clean teeth mechanically. Iron oxide is known to activate hydrogen peroxide, triggering a reaction that produces free radicals that kill bacteria and the sticky biofilm they form on teeth.
An infographic showing how the new micro robotic teeth cleaning system works
Melissa Pappas / Penn Engineering
The team first tested the system on a flat slab of prosthetic-like material to reduce the speed of the micro-robots. Then they proceeded to steer it over the more realistic terrain of the 3D printed tooth model. Finally, the microrobots were tested on real human teeth mounted in a device that arranged them as they would sit in the mouth.
Tests have shown that these micro-robots can efficiently remove plaque and biofilm, reducing pathogenic bacteria below detectable levels. The team also showed that they could precisely control bristle hardness and length by adjusting the magnetic field, making the tips strong enough to clean teeth but still gentle on gums. soft enough
Researchers say the adaptability of this micro-robot system could clean people’s teeth better, while its hands-free functionality could allow people with low motor skills to continue taking care of their oral health.
Exactly what form this system will take in a commercial device remains to be seen, but researchers are studying mouth-fitting devices that could be similar to some of the other rapid tooth-cleaning systems we’ve seen. Recently, other tooth-cleaning micro-robots have been tested that remove the infection from the inside for a more effective root canal.
The new research was published in the journal ACS Nano.
Source: University of Pennsylvania