Bio-Plotting the Future
Daniel Alter, MSc, MDT, CDT
There is no question that digital dentures are among the technologies reaping some of the greatest advancements in dentistry today. While so many are looking at perfecting the processes and manufacturing modalities, there is an equal effort put forth in improving the materials utilized for these manufacturing processes. Recent announcements claim that a specific 3D printed resin becomes stronger when it is seated in the patient's mouth, reacting to their body heat. This begs the question: What else might we put into our materials to better the patient's health and life? This is the essence of an interesting look at bio-printing in a recent article titled "Bio-printing Makes the Imitation Matrix Real," published in Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology. Praveen R. Arany, PhD, Assistant Professor of Oral Biology and Biomedical Engineering at the University at Buffalo, presents a very interesting perspective into dentistry and what possibilities bio-printing can offer our profession. "A large part of the biomaterials industry is focused on the use of dental polymers—primarily on the fabrication of dentures," he says.
According to Arany, a unique advantage of additive techniques is the ability to functionalize printed material, where tissue bio-printing incorporates cells into the matrix material, allowing printed dental appliances to incorporate chemicals (colors) or even specific medicines like antibiotics and other biologicals. Arany's laboratory explored the possibility of fabricating 3D printed dentures that encapsulate an antifungal agent, amphotericin B. Denture-associated Candida infections affect over 65% of the denture-wearing population. Fungal and bacterial biofilms are notoriously hard to remove, as the organisms embed into the outer layer of polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) material. The researchers chose to emulate the technology used in drug-eluting stents. "Our results demonstrated that if antibiotic microspheres are incorporated into the outer layer of printed dentures, the drug is continuously released as the surface material degrades," says Arany.
Antifungal dentures are the initial focus of OptiMed Technology, a biotechnology startup company spun off from Arany's university laboratory and headquartered in Buffalo, New York, but the team is already looking at various other applications. The possibilities are truly endless as we advance this new concept of treating conditions and fabricating oral appliances, such as digital dentures. "Imagine if your dentures could measure glucose level and send data to the treating physician," Arany points out. In addition, sense-and-response biomaterials could contribute to both the diagnosis and treatment of disease. As infection sets in, the pH of the denture surface would change, awakening "smart" dental materials to initiate drug release. Arany further envisions a selection of stimuli-responsive biological payloads in dental implants, surgical ligatures, and even dental instruments.
These and similar technological and material science advancements truly energize the field of restorative dentistry and the prospect of what is yet to come. The dental laboratory technology stakeholder should examine and participate in these advancements and consider how they may relate to their business, clients, and patients.
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