More than 3 million people in America have dental implants, used to replace a tooth lost to decay, gum disease, or injury. Implants represent a leap of progress over dentures or bridges, fitting much more securely and designed to last 20 years or more.
But often implants fall short of that expectation, instead needing replacement in five to 10 years due to local inflammation or gum disease, necessitating a repeat of a costly and invasive procedure for patients.
"We wanted to address this issue, and so we came up with an innovative new implant," says Geelsu Hwang, an assistant professor at Penn Dental Medicine, who has a background in engineering that he brings to his research on oral health issues.
The novel implant would implement two key technologies. One is a nanoparticle-infused material that resists bacterial colonization. And the second is an embedded light source to conduct phototherapy, powered by the natural motions of the mouth, such as chewing or toothbrushing. In a paper in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces and a 2020 paper in Advanced Healthcare Materials, Hwang and colleagues lay out their platform, which could one day be integrated not only into dental implants but other technologies, such as joint replacements.
The material explored was barium titanate, which has piezoelectric properties. The study showed its power-generating property was sustained and did not leach over time. It also demonstrated a level of mechanical strength comparable to other materials used in dental applications and did not harm normal gingival tissue in the researchers' experiments.
In future work, the team hopes to continue to refine the "smart" dental implant system, testing new material types and perhaps even using assymetric properties on each side of the implant components, one that encourages tissue integration on the side facing the gums and one that resists bacterial formation on the side facing the rest of the mouth.
"We hope to further develop the implant system and eventually see it commercialized so it can be used in the dental field," Hwang says. Learn more >>
The research was supported by the NIDCR (Grant DE027970) and the NSF (Grant 2029077). It was carried out in part at Penn's Singh Center for Nanotechnology, which is supported by the NSF National Nanotechnology Coordinated Infrastructure Program under Grant NNCI-1542153.
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