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Penn Dental Medicine's Geelsu Hwang Engineering a Next-Generation Dental Implant

Posted on Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Every year, roughly 3 million Americans receive implants to replace lost teeth. While this technology has represented a leap of progress in dental care, over time, inflammation and gum disease ― nurtured by microbial biofilms, or plaque ― can affect the soft tissue and bone surrounding the implant and cause these tooth replacements to fail. An innovative new implant now on the horizon may one day address these issues, disrupting biofilms through its inherent antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties.

The design of this next generation implant is the work of Dr. Geelsu Hwang at Penn Dental Medicine, who has a background in engineering that he brings to his research on biofilms and their role in oral health.

"The lack of a good seal between the implant structure and the surrounding gum, compared to a natural tooth, means that the risk of disease around the implant is quite high," Hwang says.

The new implant he and his collaborators are developing would interfere with biofilms and combat peri-implant infection in two ways:

First, the crown, the artificial tooth atop the implant structure, will be suffused with nanoparticles made of a chemical compound that naturally wards off bacteria. Hwang and his team have been experimenting with the compound barium titanate (BTO).

Second, the base of the crown will contain LEDs that deliver a regular dose of phototherapy to the surrounding gum tissue, giving off light at a wavelength that has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. The LEDs will be powered by the piezoelectric material in the crown (like the BTO) that converts the motion of chewing or toothbrushing to electrical energy.

Hwang notes that this platform could one day be integrated not only into dental implants, but into other applications, such as joint replacements, as well.

In 2023, the National Institutes of Health awarded Hwang a five-year grant to further advance the implant development. The NIH funding will support tests of the new implant technology, using laboratory cultures of human gum tissue and, ultimately, test implants in mini pigs as preparation for human clinical trials.

In related research, he is also studying a new piezoelectric dental composite material for fillings. The material would generate an enhanced electrical charge at the interface from the mechanical pressure of chewing, and this on its own would inhibit bacterial colonization of the composite surface.


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