Researchers developing antibacterial smart dental implant

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Researchers developing antibacterial smart dental implant that uses phototherapy


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A smart dental implant under development could benefit patients by employing biofilm-resistant nanoparticles and a light powered by biomechanical forces to promote the health of the surrounding gingival tissue. (Image: Albert Kim)

PHILADELPHIA, U.S.: In order to address implant failure and the associated effort and costs, researchers from the School of Dental Medicine of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia are developing a novel smart dental implant. They are aiming for a device that resists bacterial growth and generates its own power to operate a tissue-rejuvenating light.

The new implant is designed to combine two technologies: a nanoparticle-infused material that hinders bacterial colonization and an embedded light source to conduct phototherapy, powered by natural movements of the mouth, such as when chewing or during toothbrushing. This approach is not limited to dental use, but could have other applications, such as integration into joint replacements, too.

Dr. Geelsu Hwang, assistant professor at the university and one of the researchers involved, explained in a press release: “Phototherapy can address a diverse set of health issues. But once a biomaterial is implanted, it’s not practical to replace or recharge a battery. We are using a piezoelectric material, which can generate electrical power from natural oral motions to supply a light that can conduct phototherapy, and we find that it can successfully protect gingival tissue from bacterial challenge.”

In their research, the team explored the material barium titanate (BTO), which has piezoelectric properties and is thus used in capacitators and transistors, for example. However, it has not been investigated as a basis for anti-infectious implantable biomaterials. To test its potential, the researchers embedded composite discs with nanoparticles of BTO and exposed them to Streptococcus mutans. They found that the discs hindered biofilm formation and that this effect was greater with higher concentrations of BTO.

According to the research team, BTO generates an increased negative surface charge that repels the negatively charged cell walls of bacteria and it is likely that this repulsive effect will be long-lasting. “We wanted an implant material that could resist bacterial growth for a long time because bacterial challenges are not a one-time threat,” said Dr. Hwang.

The material’s power-generating property was sustained, and when tested over long time periods, the material did not leach. It also exhibited mechanical strength comparable to that of other materials used in dentistry. In addition, the material did not harm gingival tissue, supporting the idea that it could be used without adverse effects.

In future research, the team hopes to continue to refine its smart dental implant system, test new material types and possibly use asymmetric properties on each side of the implant components in order to encourage tissue integration and resist bacterial formation. “We hope to further develop the implant system and eventually see it commercialized so it can be used in the dental field,” commented Dr. Hwang.

The research has been reported on in two studies. The most recent study, titled “Bimodal nanocomposite platform with antibiofilm and self-powering functionalities for biomedical applications,” was published in the Sept. 1, 2021, issue of ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces. The first study, titled “Human oral motion-powered smart dental implant (SDI) for in situ ambulatory photo-biomodulation therapy,” was published in the Aug. 19, 2020, issue of Advanced Healthcare Materials.

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