Studies and research over the past few years by the University of Pennsylvania, have developed microrobots that could help safely remove plaque and tooth build-up without needing to use your hands. Mimicking bristles, these shapeshifting bots may be able to help those with disabilities and many others in the future. Dental technology and science will continue to expand as more studies and new researchers enter the field. Some of these developments could help us improve our oral health in the upcoming years.
The Development Of The Shapeshifting Robots
Those who were part of the research team at the University of Pennsylvania were interested in iron oxide nanoparticles for other reasons besides using them to remove tooth plaque. They then found that the catalytic activity of the nanoparticles could activate hydrogen peroxide, which helps release free radicals and kill bacteria that causes tooth decay.
A separate group with the Center for Innovation & Precision Dentistry (CIPD) was looking at these particles as the building blocks for magnetically energized microrobots. Now the two are being looked at together to control the microrobots and help them shapeshift into different shapes that can effectively clean small areas of teeth. Some involved in the project say that the microrobots can adjust to different tooth cavities and work on patients that have straight teeth or misalignments.
How Microrobots Will Clean Your Teeth
Researchers have found that microrobots can remove plaque and other biofilms without damaging the gum tissue. They have been shown to remove pathogens and clear plaque using a magnetic field that is fully programmable. The microrobots will help make brushing and flossing much easier for patients that can not do the actions themselves or struggle to do them effectively.
The nanoparticles have been FDA approved for other uses and can be tuned to control bristle stiffness and length. The tips can be changed to remove the film without damaging gums or removing enamel. Because these microrobots can be customized, they can be customized to many different patients’ teeth cavities, shapes, teeth sensitivity, and more.
Who Are These Robots For?
While it may seem like we are moving into the future where robots will be able to do everything for us and limit the work humans will have to do on their own, these microbots may not need to be used by all humans. Those with limited dexterity, those unable to lift their hands and arms, or those with frequent oral problems are the target audience for these cleaning robots.
The researchers are hoping to see the robots inside mouth-fitting devices and help the geriatric population or those with disabilities.
“This work was supported in part by the National Institute for Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), National Institutes of Health (R01DE025848 and R56DE029985), and Procter & Gamble. Z.R. is supported by the NIDCR Postdoctoral Training Program under award number R90DE031532. This work was also supported by the Postdoctoral Research Program of Sungkyunkwan University (2020)” (Babeer et al., 2022).
“These surface topography-adaptive robotic superstructures (STARS) have tunable strengths, shapes, and reactivity that are effective for removing biofilms” (Babeer et al., 2022).
When Will Microrobots Become Widespread?
The researchers have not released a timeline for when the robots will be available in a dental office near you, but they are working to start testing them on human dental patients. These may not replace the free toothbrush you recieve at the dental office anytime soon, but older patients or those with disabilities may see sooner access.
Not all dental patients will see the appeal of robots that can brush their teeth for them, but for those who are interested, when the microrobots are released, they will likely be very expensive. There are products like electric toothbrushes, water picks, and others that can make brushing and flossing much easier.
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