Soon, you’re gonna say goodbye to your regular toothbrush. It’s time to replace your toothbrush with the new innovative shapeshifting microbots.

According to the researchers at the University of Pennsylvania who created the prototypes, these shapeshifting microbots can change their shape to form bristles for brushing and flossing your teeth. Not only that, but these microbots can also release an antimicrobial substance that terminates dangerous oral bacteria from your mouth.

It means you can clean your teeth twice a day more effectively and effortlessly. You know that ‘prevention is better than cure.’ Researchers believe that these microbots can prevent oral diseases.

“Routine oral care is cumbersome and can pose challenges for many people, especially those who have a hard time cleaning their teeth,” says Hyun (Michel) Koo, a professor in the Department of Orthodontics and divisions of Community Oral Health and Pediatric Dentistry in Penn’s School of Dental Medicine.

“You have to brush your teeth, then floss your teeth, then rinse your mouth; it’s a manual, multistep process. The big innovation here is that the robotics system can do all three in a single, hands-free, automated way,” he said.

They successfully tested the technology on both 3D-printed and real human teeth. These microrobots are composed of iron oxide nanoparticles that have both catalytic and magnetic activity.

These Micro-robots Can Clean Teeth By Shapeshifting into Toothbrush or Floss Forms
Arranged in bristle-like structures, a robotic microswarm of iron oxide nanoparticles effectively cleaned plaque from teeth. The nanoparticles have both magnetic and catalytic properties; catalyzed hydrogen peroxide produced free radicals that eliminated tooth decay-causing pathogens as well. (Image: Minjun Oh/Penn Dental Medicine)

The technology relies on magnetic fields to configure and move the microbots. To be more precise, the iron-oxide nanoparticles can self-assemble in the presence of a magnetic field. Then, the magnetic field can be used and manipulated to shift the shape of the nanoparticle structure to adapt to the teeth and gums.

“Nanoparticles can be shaped and controlled with magnetic fields in surprising ways,” says Edward Steager, a senior research investigator in Penn’s School of Engineering and Applied Science and co-corresponding author.

“We form bristles that can extend, sweep, and even transfer back and forth across a space, much like flossing. The way it works is similar to how a robotic arm might reach out and clean a surface. The system can be programmed to do the nanoparticle assembly and motion control automatically.”

 

The motions of these microbots are optimized by the researchers on a small slab of toothlike material. Then, they tested the performance of microbots adjusting to the sophisticated topography of the tooth surface, interdental surfaces, and the gumline, using 3D-printed tooth models based on scans of human teeth from the dental clinic. Finally, they tested the shapeshifting microbots on real human teeth.

According to the researchers, the microrobots eliminated biofilms on all these various surfaces effectively. These microbots eliminated all detectable pathogens. And the good news is, that these microbots have been approved by FDA for other uses.

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“It doesn’t matter if you have straight teeth or misaligned teeth, it will adapt to different surfaces,” says Koo. “The system can adjust to all the nooks and crannies in the oral cavity.”

“We have this technology that’s as or more effective as brushing and flossing your teeth but doesn’t require manual dexterity,” Koo concludes. “We’d love to see this helping the geriatric population and people with disabilities. We believe it will disrupt current modalities and majorly advance oral health care.”

The researchers said that the bristles of the microbots can become firm enough to clean but soft enough to not hurt the user! Tests of the bristle formations on animals proved that they did not harm the gum tissue.

The study is published in the journal ACS Nano.