Oct 16, 2015 | By Kira

According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, tooth decay remains the most prevalent chronic disease in both children and adults, even though it is largely preventable. Yet even for those of us who diligently brush and floss twice a day, painful cavities and mouth and gum diseases are a constant threat. To make it worse, in many parts of the world people do not have access to daily dental hygiene and reliable dental care—including an estimated 17 million children in American alone. Left untreated, dental disease has been linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and even dementia. But what if our very own teeth had the power to kill the decay-causing bacteria in the first place? A new 3D printed material that could be used to make teeth and braces, does just that.

Researchers at the University in Groningen in the Netherlands have just developed a 3D printable antimicrobial plastic using stereolithographic processes, that when coated with saliva samples, proved effective at killing over 99 percent of the bacterium Streptococus mutans, which causes tooth decay. The material consists of antimicrobial quaternary ammonium salts, which were embedded into existing dental resin polymers. The salts are positively charged, therefore disrupting the negatively charged bacterial members, causing them to burst and die on contact. At the same time, the material is completely harmless to human cells. A control sample that did not include the positively charged salts managed to kill less than 1 percent of the offending bacteria.

The salt and polymer mix was put into a 3D printer and hardened with ultraviolet light, resulting in a range of dental objects such as replacement teeth and orthodontic braces, which were used in the above-mentioned tests. The development is truly promising, and further research could extend the applications beyond replacement teeth to more every day dental hygiene products such as toothpaste, or possible retainers, allowing almost everybody to benefit from cleaner mouths.

Dr. Andreas Hermann, one of the researchers on the team, says that further testing is required in order to ensure that the material is strong enough to be used as an actual tooth. The tests they conducted also involved leaving the 3D printed material samples in a saliva and bacteria mix for six days, however they will have to try leaving them for both longer and shorter periods of time in order to assess how time affects the results, and whether the material would be compatible have the same potency in products such as toothpaste. Nevertheless, he foresees further developments in the very near future: “it’s a medical product with a foreseeable application in the near future, much less time than developing a new drug.”

While the new material may not spell the end of having to brush our teeth entirely, it could certainly go a long way in reducing the ubiquity of tooth decay—a common culprit for everything from bad breath to heart disease. And until it’s made available to patients, let’s use this as a reminder to floss and brush extra carefully before bed.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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