In the future, a deformable robotic micro-swarm may serve as atoothbrush, mouthwash and dental floss combination device. Created by a multidisciplinary team at the University of Pennsylvania, the technology has the potential to provide a new, automated way to accomplish the repetitive but important daily tasks of brushing and flossing. This system can be very helpful for those who lack the manual dexterity to effectively clean their teeth alone.
These microrobots are composed of iron oxide nanoparticles that are catalytic and magnetic. The researchers were able to control their movement and configuration using magnetic fields to create brush-like structures that remove plaque from the broad sides of teeth, or create long, thin threads that slide between teeth like floss. In both cases, the nanoparticles, driven by a catalytic reaction, released antibacterial agents that eliminated harmful oral bacteria on-site.
Experiments using the system on simulated and real human teeth have shown that robotic components can conform to a variety of shapes, virtually eliminating the sticky biofilm that causes tooth decay and gum disease. The Pennsylvania team shared their findings in the journal ACS Nano, establishing a proof-of-concept for the robotic system.
Routine oral care is cumbersome and a challenge for many people, especially those who have a hard time cleaning their teeth, the researchers said. You have to brush, then floss, then rinse, a manual, multi-step process. The big innovation here is that the robotic system can do all three steps in a single, hands-free, automated way.
Nanoparticles can be shaped and controlled in surprising ways using magnetic fields, and the brushes they form can extend, sweep, and even transfer back and forth within a space, much like flossing. It works similar to how a robotic arm might reach out to clean a surface. The system can be programmed to automate nanoparticle assembly and motion control.