Scientists have created a swarm of shapeshifting microrobots that can brush, rinse and floss your teeth simultaneously.
Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania showed that the hands-free system could effectively automate the treatment and removal of tooth-decay-causing bacteria and dental plaque.
“The system could be particularly valuable for those who lack the manual dexterity to clean their teeth effectively themselves”, the experts said.
These are made up of microrobots iron oxide nanoparticles that have both catalytic and magnetic activity
Using a magnetic field, researchers were then able to direct their motion and configuration to form either bristle-like structures that sweep away dental plaque from the broad surfaces of teeth or elongated strings that can slip between teeth like a length of floss.
‘Routine oral care is cumbersome and can pose challenges for many people, especially those who have a hard time cleaning their teeth,’ said study author Hyun Koo, a professor in the Department of Orthodontics at Penn’s School of Dental Medicine.
‘You have to brush your teeth, then floss your teeth, then rinse your mouth; it’s a manual, multistep process.
‘The big innovation here is that the robotics system can do all three in a single, hands-free, automated way.’
Fellow study author Edward Steager, a senior research investigator at Penn’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, said: ‘Nanoparticles can be shaped and controlled with magnetic fields in surprising ways. We form bristles that can extend, sweep, and even transfer back and forth across a space, much like flossing. The way it works is similar to how a robotic arm might reach out and clean a surface. The system can be programmed to do the nanoparticle assembly and motion control automatically.’
Koo added: ‘The design of the toothbrush has remained relatively unchanged for millennia.’
On various surfaces, the researchers found that the microrobotics system could effectively eliminate biofilms, clearing them of all detectable pathogens.
The iron oxide nanoparticles have been FDA approved for other uses, and tests of the bristle formations on an animal model showed that they did not harm the gum tissue.
‘It doesn’t matter if you have straight teeth or misaligned teeth, it will adapt to different surfaces,’ said Koo. ‘The system can adjust to all the nooks and crannies in the oral cavity.’
‘We have this technology that’s as or more effective as brushing and flossing your teeth but doesn’t require manual dexterity,’ said Koo.
‘We’d love to see this helping the geriatric population and people with disabilities. We believe it will disrupt current modalities and majorly advance oral health care.’
The study has been published in the journal ACS Nano.