Researchers from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands have developed a model for a 3-D printed tooth that doesn't simply sit in your mouth — it also has bacteria-busting properties.
The team detailed the process by which they constructed the dental marvel in an article published in the scientific journal Advanced Functional Materials. They mixed antimicrobial ammonium salts with a dental resin, which was placed in a 3-D printer and solidified with ultraviolet light. The team then printed out their new teeth replacements.
How it works: "The material can kill bacteria on contact, but on the other hand it's not harmful to human cells," Andreas Herrmann, one of the project's researchers, told New Scientist. The antibacterial nature of the tooth is made possible by the ammonium salts: When negatively charged bacterial matter comes into contact with the positively charged ammonium salts, they go up in smoke.
To ensure that the teeth can kill bacteria, the team printed chompers without the ammonium salts to serve as a control group. When they swiped the teeth with Streptococcus mutans, a bacteria that causes tooth decay, about 1% of bacteria was eliminated. When they did the same with salted teeth, however, 99% of bacteria disappeared.
Of course, teeth are tricky business, and these 3-D printed specimens are nowhere near ready for our mouths. As the Washington Post reports, researchers aren't sure yet how the models will withstand the constant onslaught of brushing and toothpaste, not to mention chewing, grinding and the other everyday wear-and-tear we put our teeth through.
Moreover, any time something new is implanted into the body, there's a risk for rejection. Currently, false teeth are made from different materials — porcelain, acrylic resin, gold — that have been tested for use and durability. The team behind the 3-D teeth, however, see some advantages to its design: In their article, the team noted that the antibacterial properties of the tooth could come in handy when it comes to preventing rejection.
Teeth are just the beginning. The researchers also put forth other potential uses for their antibacterial magic. "The approach to developing 3-D printable antimicrobial polymers can easily be transferred to other nonmedical application areas, such as food packaging, water purification, or even toys for children," they wrote, according to Popular Science.
Use it for whatever you want, science — just promise us you'll make our yearly checkups easier to swallow.
h/t Washington Post