Medical

Dental implant could heal infected gums by generating electricity

Dental implant could heal infe...
A cut-away diagram of the Smart Dental Implant (SDI), which does exist as a physical proof-of-concept prototype
A cut-away diagram of the Smart Dental Implant (SDI), which does exist as a physical proof-of-concept prototype
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A cut-away diagram of the Smart Dental Implant (SDI), which does exist as a physical proof-of-concept prototype
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A cut-away diagram of the Smart Dental Implant (SDI), which does exist as a physical proof-of-concept prototype

While implanted artificial teeth do offer a longer-term alternative to dentures, they may need to be surgically replaced if chronic gum infections occur. Scientists are thus working on a better implant, that would generate electricity via mouth movements.

Currently being developed by Asst. Prof. Geelsu Hwang and colleagues at Pennsylvania State University, the implant consists of the natural-looking artificial tooth itself (the crown), inside of which is a steel body that incorporates a rectifier circuit, a battery, and a ring of near-infrared micro-LEDs around its exposed base. That base protrudes out the bottom of the crown, and is secured by a screw into the patient's jaw bone.

The crown is made of dental resin combined with nanoparticles of an inorganic compound called barium titanate. The latter is a piezoelectric material, meaning that it generates an electrical charge in response to mechanical stress.

It is hoped that movements such as chewing would be sufficient to generate a charge that could be stored in the battery. That battery would then periodically power up the micro-LEDs, so that they could irradiate the surrounding gum tissue. Studies have previously shown that such therapeutic light exposure, known as phototherapy, can help reduce inflammation and speed the healing of gum tissue damaged by infections.

Additionally, the team's lab tests have shown that the negative surface charge of the barium titanate particles repels the negatively charged cell walls of oral Streptococcus mutans bacteria. This means that the bacteria shouldn't cling to the crown and form the biofilms that we know as plaque – thus reducing the likelihood of infections occurring in the first place.

The university claims that the resin/nanoparticle composite has sustained its piezoelectric effect over the course of numerous tests. It also offers a mechanical strength similar to that of existing dental composites, plus the barium titanate nanoparticles don't leach out of it, and it does not harm healthy gum tissue.

"We hope to further develop the implant system and eventually see it commercialized so it can be used in the dental field," says Hwang.

The research is described in a paper recently published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, along with one published last year in Advanced Healthcare Materials.

Source: Penn State

2 comments
2 comments
CarolynFarstrider
Would this mean that periodically, your gums would glow red, as the lights come on for a round of disinfection? Interesting aesthetics, I think! Possibly scary!
Christian Lassen
Phototherapy is a nice adjunct to healing, but the infectious material needs to be removed first. Phototherapy cannot fix the problem, only speed up healing about 10-15%.

Also, strep mutans is the bacteria responsible for tooth decay and acidic calcium dissolution, not for gum disease, which tend to be alkaline bacteria that deposit excess calcium. Implants don't care about tooth decay, only about gum disease and excessive mechanical stressors.

I'm guessing this tech is more of a demonstrative proof-of-concept idea than a practical one.