Oct 25, 2017 | By Tess

A team of researchers from the King Abdullah University of Science & Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia are developing “smart 3D printed braces” which could help straighten and align teeth faster thanks to embedded LED lights and non-toxic batteries.

Anyone who now owes their pearly white smile to braces will also know the pain it can be to have wires strapped to your teeth for months and even years. That’s why we can imagine that many people will jump when they hear of a technology that could make the teeth straightening process faster and more efficient.

What they might not guess, however, is that this technology would include attaching little LEDs and batteries to each and every tooth.

According to the KAUST researchers, these elements could be the answer to faster and more cost-efficient orthodontic care.

The concept put forth by the team consists of 3D printing a semi-transparent dental brace which is then equipped with tiny near-infrared LEDs (two on every tooth) and a small lithium-ion battery (one for each tooth).

The researchers say that the batteries (which are non-toxic) would power the LEDs in the mouth, providing vital light therapy to the teeth. Light therapy, they say, can promote bone regeneration and could therefore be conducive to helping teeth straighten and align faster. Unlike existing braces, the smart 3D printed ones would be removable to allow for the batteries to be recharged.

"We started embedding flexible LEDs inside 3D printed braces, but they needed a reliable power supply," explained Muhammad Hussain, who led the research alongside PhD student Arwa Kutbee.

"After the incidents with the Samsung Galaxy 7 batteries exploding, we realized that traditional batteries in their current form and encapsulation don't serve our purpose. So we redesigned the state-of-the-art lithium-ion battery technology into a flexible battery, followed by biosafe encapsulation within the braces to make a smart dental brace.”

The updated battery design measures just 2.25 x 1.7 mm, and has flexible properties which make it suitable for the orthodontic application. Moreover, the small lithium-ion battery has demonstrated good volumetric energy (meaning it has strong energy relative to its size).

To ensure the safety of the wearer, the batteries are confined within a case made from a soft biocompatible polymeric material. To test the cases and the battery’s safety, the researchers placed the battery in a culture of kidney cells and found that the cells continued to survive and even thrive in the battery’s presence.

Of course, the idea of having batteries and LEDs in your mouth (I should note, the frequency of the LEDs proposed make them undetectable to the naked eye) might still seem a bit outlandish. And for the moment, it still is.

So far, the KAUST research team has developed a preliminary prototype of the orthodontic system, and hopes to advance the project by moving ahead to clinical trials.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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