3D printing has been revolutionising the world of technology for some time, but now it has turned its attention to dentistry, with potentially significant results.
Researchers at the University of Groningen have developed a method that creates a bespoke tooth to perfectly fit the space in an individual’s mouth. In addition to this, it is made of materials that kill Streptococcus mutans, the bacterium that collects on enamel and causes tooth decay.
Discussing how the concept was formulated, Andreas Hermann, a chemistry specialist, said: “In times of dentistry going digital it would be beneficial for patients if we can include a bacterial killing property to all 3D printed dental materials.”
The innovative teeth are made of resin that contains quaternary ammonium salts, which are used in the food industry to safely disinfect products. The salts disrupt the cell walls of the bacteria, causing them to die, but do not affect the other cells that make up the lining of the mouth.
Professor Hermann explained: “The antimicrobial resins contain groups that are positively-charged and interact with the outer surface of bacteria. We designed the materials in such a way that once bacteria settle on the material the positively-charged groups make holes in the microbes and the bacteria then die.”
The antimicrobial teeth were able to kill 99 per cent of the bacteria that was placed on them in the laboratory, compared to just one per cent that died on the standard false teeth.
However, it is unclear how the teeth could affect bacterial resistance to antibiotics and other disinfectant substances, as well as whether it would harm useful bacteria that is also found in the mouth.
Despite this, the new implants could be a powerful intervention in areas where access to dental care is limited or sporadic, particularly given that they are relatively cheap to produce.