Have You Heard of the 3-D Printed Tooth That Kills Bacteria?

Scientist have found a way to scan and 3-D print a custom tooth that’s capable of killing bacteria in your mouth. How is this possible? Read on to find out how:

3D printed tooth technology

Photo by Alan Levine via Flickr

Going to the dentist isn’t exactly “fun,” especially if you need a major procedure done. Getting  fitted for an artificial tooth or other treatment often involves discomfort and weird-tasting substances put into your mouth. But no matter how much you try to avoid this by cleaning your teeth regularly, it seems that all your efforts are in vain when you still need a cavity drilled or a root canal done.

But now, high-tech digital scanning and 3-D printing may change your dental health forever. Not only can this new concept lead to a better type of tooth implant, it may also improve your overall oral hygiene.

The invention: a 3D printed tooth.

And not just any old tooth, at that. The researchers in the University of Groningen in the Netherlands have successfully developed a 3D printed tooth made from antimicrobial resin that kills bacteria in the mouth. The plastic tooth incorporates positively charged antimicrobial quaternary ammonium salts that eliminate negatively charged bacterial membranes. So, rather than being a hub for bacteria and plaque, this super tooth keeps itself clean.

How it Works:

Although it’s still early in its stages of development, researchers are optimistic about the effects of the 3D printed tooth. Here’s how it works:

First, a tooth is custom made to match the gap in a person’s mouth using a digital scanner. The tooth is then printed out of a resin and the antimicrobial salt and made to fit like a natural tooth in the mouth. The negatively-charged bacterial membranes found in the mouth burst when they come in contact with the positive charge of the salts in the resin. Where there was once a place for bacteria to thrive, there is only harmless and lifeless colonies of bacteria to be rinsed away.

When they first tested the compounds of the tooth, they printed resin objects with and without microbial salts. They then put Streptococcus mutans on the samples, which causes tooth decay. The objects without the special salts had only 1 percent of the bacteria die. The object with the microbial salt, however, had over 99 percent of colonies eliminated.

The authors of the paper are excited about what this means for the future of teeth implants, writing:

“The antimicrobial properties were shown to be caused by bacterial contact killing with the material rather than the release of antimicrobial compounds from the resin. Having optimized the activity and stability of these materials, we have a prototype at hand that is suited for further testing in a clinical setting, including not only dental applications but also, for instance, orthopedic ones like spacers and other polymeric parts used in total hip or knee arthroplasties. Moreover, the approach to developing 3D printable antimicrobial polymers can easily be transferred to other nonmedical application areas, such as food packaging, water purification, or even toys for children. To the best of our knowledge, the resins we developed represent the first report of an antimicrobial, contact-killing 3D printable material.”

Is it okay to remove bacteria from mouth?

Of course, removing all the harmful bacteria on your teeth sounds like a great idea. That means healthier, longer-lasting teeth (and fewer appointments to the dentist) But that does beg the question: is killing all the bacterial in your mouth safe?

As humans, both good and bad bacteria play influential roles in health. The American Dental Association (ADA) told Healthline that the colonization of some bacteria is necessary for oral health. If both neutral and harmful bacteria are eradicated from a patient’s mouth, it could be colonized by other harmful organisms.

“The material can kill bacteria on contact, but on the other hand it’s not harmful to human cells,” one of the researchers, Andreas Herrmann of the University of Groningen, told New Scientist.

Plus, these antimicrobial 3D printed teeth may not be able to kill all the bacteria since there are hundreds of different species of bacteria found in the human mouth, according to the ADA. "Given that the material works on contact, it is likely that teeth or fillings made from the material would only kill bacteria in a limited radius," ADA officials said. "Whether teeth or fillings made from this material could have any effect on other bacterial strains, or even function in a real human mouth, has not yet been determined."

Advancement in Dental Implants

Current Tooth-Replacement Method

Traditionally, with modern dental implants, a patient in need of a new tooth or teeth would be fitted for a crown, bridge, or denture. An impression would be taken at the initial appointment. Then, it would be sent to a lab to create a model from which to create a new tooth.

After a couple of weeks, the crown or tooth would be ready for the procedure. At the next appointment, the patient has the new dental fixture installed, making sure the tooth fit comfortably.

3D Tooth-Replacement

Researchers are enthusiastic about vastly improving the process of dental implants. Before trials can begin, extensive testing is needed to see how 3D printed teeth hold up against periodic exposure to saliva, toothpaste, food, and other variables.

These Netherland researchers are hopeful about the positive impact of antimicrobial dental implants. Once they pass the lab experiments and clinical trials in patients’ mouths, they could very well advance the way the dental industry replaces teeth. “For clinical use we need to extend this [research], and investigate the compatibility with toothpaste,” Herrmann told New Scientist, “It’s a medical product with a foreseeable application in the near future, much less time than developing a new drug.”

An Impact Beyond the Dental Industry

The development of this antimicrobial plastic may make an impact not only on the dental industry, but on world healthcare as well. For example, in the medical industry, one challenge of 3D printing is printing objects made of alternative materials to a basic polymer. However, the successful incorporation of antimicrobial salts could be a game changer, creating sterile 3D implants used for a variety of medical procedures.

“[W]e have a prototype at hand that is suited for further testing in a clinical setting, including not only dental applications but also, for instance, orthopaedic ones like spacers and other polymeric parts used in total hip or knee arthroplasties,” the researchers wrote in their paper. They mentioned that the development of the 3D printable antimicrobial polymers can impact non-medical areas, such as food packaging, water purification, or children’s toys.

Ultimately, it could take some time before these enhanced teeth become part of regular procedures at the dentist’s office. But as 3D printing technology continues to advance the dental industry, it’s exciting to think about the possibilities of better oral care for everyone.

So what do you think of this new, bacteria-destroying tooth? Will it be safe, giving patients better oral health? Or is the risk too great for hosting more harmful bacteria in the mouth? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

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