A visit to the dentist typically involves a time consuming and sometimes unpleasant scraping with mechanical tools to remove plaque from teeth. What if instead a dentist could deploy an army of tiny robots to precisely and non-invasively remove that build up?
A team of engineers, dentists, and biologists from the University of Pennsylvania, USA developed a microscopic robotic cleaning crew. With two types of robotic systems – one designed to work on surfaces and the other to operate inside confined spaces – the scientists showed that robots with catalytic activity could ably destroy biofilms (sticky amalgamations of bacteria enmeshed in a protective scaffolding). Such robotic biofilm-removal systems could be valuable in a wide range of potential applications, from keeping water pipes and catheters clean to reducing the risk of tooth decay, endodontic infections, and implant contamination.
The work, published in Science Robotics, was led by Hyun (Michel) Koo of the School of Dental Medicine and Edward Steager of the School of Engineering and Applied Science.
Koo says: “This was a truly synergistic and multidisciplinary interaction. We’re leveraging the expertise of microbiologists and clinician-scientists as well as engineers to design the best microbial eradication system possible. This is important to other biomedical fields facing drug-resistant biofilms as we approach a post-antibiotic era”.
Steager adds: “Treating biofilms that occur on teeth requires a great deal of manual labour, both on the part of the consumer and the professional. We hope to improve treatment options, as well as reduce the difficulty of care”.