A new 3-D-printed tooth not only fits that gap in your mouth perfectly, but it kills the bacteria that rotted out the old one, making it a kind of avenging angel of oral hygiene.
A team headed by Andreas Herrmann at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands developed the teeth, which are a kind of double breakthrough. First is the method for making them. Instead of taking dental molds to model the shape of teeth, the team uses 3-D scanning and then 3-D printing to make a tooth that’s the perfect fit. The teeth are printed by using UV light to harden a tooth-shaped object from a vat of dental resin. This is a different kind of 3-D printing than the layer-by-layer version we usually see.
The other trick is the inclusion of quaternary ammonium salts in the resin. These salts, which disrupt the cell walls of bacteria, are anti-microbial. In fact, they’re often used in sanitizing products in the food industry.
“The material can kill bacteria on contact, but on the other hand it’s not harmful to human cells,” says Hermann.
In the next part of the study, the team left printed teeth, braces and other dental materials in a mixture of saliva and streptococcus mutans for six days. It killed almost all bacteria. A control, using non-killer teeth, only managed a pathetic one percent.
Oral-hygiene wise, this sounds great, although there may be concerns over increasing bacterial resistance. There is also further research to be done before antibacterial teeth make it into your local dentist’s office. For instance, the team needs to “investigate the compatibility with toothpaste,” says Herrmann.
The 3-D printing part, though, seems to have nothing but upside. You could even customize the teeth, matching your incisors to those of your favorite TV vampire, for instance. And who wouldn’t want that?