It’s possible that flossing and cleaning your teeth may soon include a “shapeshifting robotic microswarm” of nanobots in the near future. Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania believe that their tiny dentists could replace both floss and toothbrushes.
Researchers claim that by using a magnetic field, they can guide the motion and arrangement of the microrobots to generate either bristle-like structures, similar to those found on a toothbrush, or extended strings that can slide between teeth, similar to those found in dental floss. In either scenario, the fundamental components of these very small robots are composed of iron oxide nanoparticles, which are capable of producing catalytic as well as magnetic responses.
How would the nanoparticles work?
The catalytic process causes the nanoparticles to release antimicrobials, which are able to eliminate dangerous germs that may be present on a person’s gums or teeth. Experiments conducted by the group showed that the robots were able to adjust their shape to match the contours of a person’s teeth, even if those teeth were crooked, and remove all of the biofilms that are the root cause of tooth decay and gum disease.
It’s interesting to note that the team’s robotic success was really a combination of two different studies. The research team led by Koo was attempting to use the catalytic performance of nanoparticles to trigger the generation of free radicals that would destroy the germs that cause tooth decay. During this time, Steager’s team was investigating the possibility of using nanoparticles as construction blocks for magnet-guided microrobots.
The two concepts were brought together via their cooperation, which resulted in the creation of a platform that could be used to electromagnetically command the microrobots and cause them to alter their shape such that they released antimicrobials that cleaned teeth.
To be more specific, the iron particles will automatically organize themselves when exposed to a magnetic field. After that, the field may be modified to modify the form of the nanoparticle architecture so that it can better conform to the teeth and gums. The production of the nanoparticles results in the generation of free radicals, which aid in the destruction of bacteria and other infectious agents.