A joint effort by dentistry and engineering students in the United States has resulted in the birth of a technology that will help improve dentistry and lead to cleaner teeth for patients.
Microrobot plaque context
A micro-robotic cleaning innovation was built in 2019 by engineers, dentists, and biologists based at the University of Pennsylvania. The researchers demonstrated that robots with catalytic activity could effectively remove biofilms—sticky manifestations of bacteria wrapped in a protective framework—using two types of robotic systems focused on layers and the other within limited areas.
Catalytic antimicrobial robots (CARS) involve two types of robotic systems equipped for dissolving and removing biofilms that have been developed or placed on a surface. The first CARS type involves floating iron-oxide nanoparticles in solvents and using magnets to plow through biofilms on a layer. The second method involves placing nanoparticles in 3D gel molds and utilizing them to identify and eliminate biofilms that choke confined passages. As a result, the CARS effectively eliminated species of bacteria, with the matrix around them broken down and associated debris cleaned with great accuracy.
Tooth decay, endodontic infections, and implant contamination might all be reduced using micro-robotic technologies, which remove biofilms. The same technologies can be used to assist dentists in the time-consuming task of cleaning plaque from a patient’s teeth during a routine dental visit. In addition, the mobility of these robots can be controlled using a magnetic field, enabling them to be steered without the necessity of a data connection.
Microrobots could support dentistry by helping dentists and dental hygienists complete tasks faster and with a greater degree of accuracy than traditional manual methods. As a result, dentists will have more time to focus on complex tasks during a patient’s visit, as well as the average length of dental appointments may be reduced.
If microrobots become widely adopted within the dentistry profession, manufacturers of traditional dentistry equipment may suffer financial losses as portions of their equipment catalogs gradually become obsolete. Similarly, dentist training schools would need to update their curriculums to include the use of microrobots.
Beyond dentistry, microrobots could also be applied to such work as refuse removal, general cleaning, infrastructure maintenance, plumbing, and clothing maintenance. As microrobots are proven within a wider range of applications, young mechatronic engineers may be encouraged to pursue careers designing and fabricating next-generation microbots.
Implications of dentistry microrobots
Wider implications of microrobots being used in dentistry may include:
- The dentistry profession becoming increasingly automated and efficient, shortening appointment times and improving treatment outcomes for patients.
- Reduced costs and greater availability of more complex dentistry surgery services as the growing automation of dentistry may push more dental students toward more niche forms of dentistry.
- Increasing the average cost of opening new dentistry clinics which may limit the proliferation of independent dentistry clinics and advantage investor-led dentistry networks.
- Other industries and services adopting microrobots, such as plumbing to clean blocked pipes, and fashion brands leveraging them to clean clothing stains or making various clothing materials more resistant to stains and damage.
Questions to comment on
- Beyond dentistry, which other industries may consider using microrobots and why?
- What ethical guidelines, if any, should be considered when using microrobots in fields associated with human health?