Brushing and flossing are very important to maintaining good oral health. However, they can also be a bit of pain. That’s why not everyone actually keeps up with these critical oral health habits. Only about 60% of Americans brush their teeth twice a day, and much fewer–30%!–floss their teeth every day.

How can we help people to improve their oral health if they won’t take the time to properly care for their teeth? Maybe the answer is tiny tooth-cleaning robots. At least, that’s what developers at Penn University think. These researchers developed tiny robots that can attack the biofilms that grow on teeth (most of what we call “plaque”).

Miniture people squeezing toothpaste on a brush. Maybe not tiny people, but Penn University thinks that the answer to maintaining good oral health might be tiny tooth-cleaning robots.

Battling BioFilms

The research started with two teams independently considering nanoparticles for special applications. One group at Penn Dental Medicine was looking at iron-oxide-containing nanoparticles that work to activate peroxide to release free radicals to kill bacteria and destroy the biofilms that protect bacteria on the teeth.

The other team was working on similar nanoparticles to make tiny robots that they could control using magnetic fields. This allowed them to steer the robots.

When these two teams met, it was like peanut butter and chocolate, and they were able to combine both techniques into a single tiny device, which they dubbed the catalytic antimicrobial robots (CARs).

They then developed two different delivery systems. The first is putting them in a solution, which then can be steered using a magnetic field to travel along a surface, removing biofilms from the surface. They used this approach to clean teeth in-vitro. The teeth were able to clean not just the exterior of the tooth, but could potentially be used to clean the interior of the tooth.

Are Robots the Future of Oral Hygiene?

It’s exciting to think that one day we might not have to brush or floss our teeth at all, just have a swarm of bioactive robots that will patrol our teeth day and night, removing biofilms from our teeth to protect us from tooth decay and gum disease. However, these robots are a long way from being a practical tooth cleaning system, and in the meantime, there are several other high-tech ways we might eliminate the need for oral hygiene.

One is the use of symbiotic organisms to clean our teeth. This most likely won’t be a kind of fuzzy worm like the dentic–it’s more likely to be a kind of microorganism, such as a form of amoeba that is designed to attack oral bacteria on our teeth.

We might also learn to better harness the power of the bacteria we already have in our mouth. Not all oral bacteria produce acid that attacks our teeth and gums. Some produce peroxide–the same compound that the robots use to kill bacteria (and we use to whiten teeth). With changes in our diet and potentially modification of the organisms, we might end up with an oral microbiome that is more naturally healthy and doesn’t require the same level of intervention from you or your dentist.

For Now, Hygiene Is Critical

Unfortunately, in the meantime, we don’t have any options other than manually brushing and flossing our teeth, plus making regular visits to the dentist for professional cleanings. However, holistic dentistry can also help you use your diet to maximize the benefit of good bacteria in your mouth.

If you are looking for a dentist in the San Jose area that can help you take care of your teeth, please call (408) 354-5600 today for an appointment with our dentist Dr. Nancy Nehawandian at Top Down Dental in Los Gatos.