Jul 8, 2022

Scientists Create Programmable Nanoparticle Toothbrush

Posted by in categories: biotech/medical, nanotechnology, robotics/AI

The basic design of the toothbrush hasn’t changed in a thousand years — sure, there are motors, different materials, and funky shapes, but they’re all still sticks with bristles attached. A team from the University of Pennsylvania believes it’s time to shake things up. In a new study, the researchers have shown that shapeshifting nanoparticles can successfully clean teeth, replacing all the manual labor with a nano-scale robotic dance. Not only can these particles be transformed into tooth-cleaning shapes, but their action can have antimicrobial effects that destroy plaque-causing bacteria.

This project came together quite by accident. A group from the Penn School of Dental Medicine under professor Hyun (Michel) Koo was interested in leveraging the catalytic activity of nanoparticles to release free radicals that could kill microbes on the teeth. Meanwhile, senior engineering researcher Edward Steagar was spearheading work at the Penn School of Engineering and Applied Sciences on assembling nanoparticles into robots. Bringing these projects together gave us the sci-fi gray goo toothbrush.

The combined team used magnetic fields to manipulate iron oxide nanoparticles, testing them first on a slab of tooth-like material. Next, the team moved to 3D-printed copies of teeth. Finally, they tested the nanoparticle brushes on real teeth that were mounted in a realistic way to simulate a human mouth. The tests show these nanoparticles can form brush-like shapes capable of scrubbing off the biofilms that lead to tooth decay. They can also flow between teeth like floss. All the while, the nanoparticles promote the production of free radicals that further eliminate bacteria.

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