Researchers at the University of Groningen in Holland are developing 3D-printed teeth from an antimicrobial plastic. The novel innovation may change dentistry forever, as it can kill tooth decaying bacteria on contact.
A Prevalent Condition
Ninety one percent of adults ages 20 to 64 have experienced some amount of tooth decay, according to the American Dental Association. For 27%, it goes untreated.
Severe tooth decay can also be quite costly to fix. A single tooth implant can run between $3,000 to $4,000, while a complete set costs between $20,000 and $45,000. Most insurance companies will only cover about 10% of the associated costs.
These statistics demonstrate how tooth decay is one of the most prevalent medical conditions in the US today.
A Novel Solution
The 3D printed teeth could solve a lot of these problems, as they would remain white and pristine regardless of care.
Andreas Hermann from the University of Groningen told New Scientist, “The material can kill bacteria on contact, but on the other hand it’s not harmful to human cells.”
The teeth will be made of antimicrobial quaternary ammonium salts integrated into dental resin polymers. When positively charged, the salts can cause bacterial membranes to burst and die.
The researchers created the blend with a 3D printer and hardened it with ultraviolet light. They printed sample materials including replacement teeth and braces.
As part of the research, they coated the objects with saliva and Streptococcus mutans for 6 days. The bacteria is common in the oral cavity and enables tooth decay.
Sample materials that had the positively charged salts killed more than 99% of bacteria. Materials without the salts killed less than 1%
Researchers published the plans in Advanced Functional Materials.
It will be a while before the 3D printed teeth will be made available to the public, but it’s a promising technology that many will look forward to.
The next step in the research process will test the durability of the tooth plastic for dental use, and its compatibility with toothpaste. It is possible that complications could arise with the technology because of dental wear-and-tear and toothpaste chemicals. As with any implanted material, there is also a possibility that the body will reject it.
As for the antibacterial component, it can likely be applied to a wide range of additional uses.
The researchers wrote, ”The approach to developing 3-D printable antimicrobial polymers can easily be transferred to other nonmedical application areas, such as food packaging, water purification, or even toys for children.”