Scientists reveal microbots could soon brush and floss your teeth

Bots will brush teeth, then floss them, and then rinse the user's mouth; it’s a manual multi-step process

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A woman smiling with her mouth open. —  Pixabay/ Alexandr Ivanov
A woman smiling with her mouth open. —  Pixabay/ Alexandr Ivanov

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania say a “robotic microswarm” may soon act as a toothbrush, rinse and dental floss.

In this startling new study, scientists used a magnetic field consisting of iron oxide nanoparticles that produce catalytic and magnetic reactions. By doing so, researchers were able to form bristle-like structures of a toothbrush or thin, elongated strings like dental floss.

“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, in a university release.

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

Originally, the study was supposed to be two different projects. One team of researchers were trying to find ways to kill bacteria in mouths from the catalytic activity of nanoparticles. The other was meant to study how to create microbots from nanoparticles.

But their collaboration merged the two ideas, creating microbots those clean teeth and adapt to different teeth surfaces.

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