It takes an army to wipe out dental plague

Dental plaque is an ongoing battle – both for dentists as well as patients. But there’s hope! A group of dentists, engineers, biologists from University of Pennsylvania developed a microscopic army of robot cleaners that can combat dental plaque. The robotic systems have two functions – one focused on surfaces and other to work inside tight and confined spaces. It’s possible these robots could eliminate biofilms and clusters of stubborn and sticky bacteria. Not only applicable to dental contexts, it can also be used to solve problems such as keeping water pipes and catheters clean.

The project was directed by Hyun Koo of the School of Dental Medicine, and Edward Steager of the School of Engineering and Applied Science and published in Science Robotics. They acknowledge the hardships of removing biofilms as the bacteria provides protection from antimicrobial agents. Previously, Koo and his colleagues made progress by investigating different methods of breaking down the biofilm matrix. One of their endeavors became fruitful, and it consists of employing nanoparticles which contains iron-oxide that can work catalytically, enabling hydrogen peroxide responsible for breaking down biofilms in a controlled manner.

Another research project was carried out by the Penn Dental Medicine team at Penn Engineering led by Steager, Vijay Kumar, and Kathleen Stebe. They studied using robotics that used similar nanoparticles and controlled the movements by using a magnetic field. Koo and Steager collaborated to create CARs (catalytic antimicrobial robots) with programming its aim to degrade and remove biofilms, operating in aforementioned two robotic systems. Because of its cutting edge innovation, the project was awarded support in 2018 by  Penn Center for Health, Devices, and Technology, Penn Engineering and the Office of the Vice Provost for Research. We’ll continue watching to see what happens when different disciplines work together – the possibilities are endless!