World's first tooth-on-a-chip may advance the field of dentistry
We're seeing an increasing number of organ-on-a-chip devices, in which small pieces of living biological tissue are used to replicate the functions of actual organs. Now, scientists have created the first-ever tooth-on-a-chip, which mimics a tooth with a cavity.
For the most part, organ-on-a-chip devices incorporate a tissue sample from a given organ, which is placed within a small transparent slide. Microfluidic channels in that slide are then used to pass various chemicals – such as medications or toxins – through that sample. Based on how the tissue reacts, researchers are able to deduce how the full organ might be affected.
Developed at the Oregon Health and Science University, the tooth-on-a-chip works on the same principle.
It contains a small slice of dentin material taken from a molar, sandwiched between clear rubber slides. Channels etched into those slides allow introduced fluids to flow through that dentin. This replicates the manner in which a cavity in a tooth's protective enamel lets bacteria enter the inside of the tooth.
Utilizing a microscope, scientists are subsequently able to study how the sample reacts. The technology could ultimately be used to develop better cavity-filling or cavity-prevention solutions, plus it could be utilized to optimize treatments for individual people – although the latter would require a bit of a sacrifice.
"Years from now, dentists could extract a tooth from a patient, load it into this device, observe how a dental filling material interacts with the tooth, and pick a material that’s best for that particular patient," says the lead scientist, Assoc. Prof. Luiz E. Bertassoni. "It opens up a new window into the complexity of dental care that could change the way we do dentistry quite significantly."
A paper on the research was published this week in the journal Lab on a Chip.