Goodbye tooth decay!
Cavities are no fun. I think we can all agree on that. I don’t think that anyone goes to the dentist saying: “Boy, I really hope I’ll need a bunch of fillings.” Yet, according to the most recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 92% of American adults have had cavities in their permanent teeth.
A Dutch team of material scientists and orthodontists from the University of Groningen have developed an antimicrobial plastic that could be used to 3D print teeth and other dental implants. Teeth, retainers or braces printed with this material would contain quaternary ammonium salts, often used as disinfectants, that would be effective at killing bacteria in saliva.
In the lab, the antimicrobial plastic killed 99 percent of the Streptococcus mutans bacteria responsible for tooth decay in the saliva that the teeth were coated with, so it sounds very promising, but more testing is needed to make sure that it will hold up for long periods of time and be compatible with toothpaste.
“All the components are already being used in humans, but more tests are needed before we can bring these 3D antimicrobials to the market,” says Andreas Hermann, a material scientist on the research team.
To create the replacement teeth, the researchers mixed dental resin with the ammonium salts, and used UV light to solidify the mixture in the 3D printer. They had to ensure that it would not leach antimicrobials. “You don't want them to enter the mouth and thus the intestines, where they could kill off gut microbes,” said Hermann.
He told the Smithsonian that these implants could be especially useful for people in low-resource areas who don’t always have regular access to dentists and doctors. Since the materials are inexpensive, the pieces could be 3D printed at minimal cost.
The research team sees this material as being useful for oral restoration, crowns, retainers and replacement teeth to start, but hope to extend its application to medical implants. “All implants in medicine suffer from biofilm formation, so giving them antibacterial properties would be beneficial,” explained Hermann.
Hopefully your dentist and orthodontist will be talking to you about these novel possibilities before too long. But until then, don’t forget to brush and floss!
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