Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania created a dental implant that resists bacterial growth and generates electricity thanks to its piezoelectric properties. The generated electricity could power a light source for on-board phototherapy, a technique that could help protect gum tissue from disease and inflammation. The implant contains discs with embedded barium titanate (BTO) nanoparticles that work to create a negative surface charge on the material that repels bacteria.
Dental implants are used to replace teeth that are lost through decay or gum disease, and are a more advanced solution to tooth loss than dentures because of a more secure fit. Although the implants are intended to last a couple of decades, in practice they often fail much earlier, frequently requiring replacement within 5-10 years due to gum issues or inflammation. No-one likes visiting the dentist, and the expense and discomfort of getting an implant replaced is good inspiration to design a more durable implant.
This latest technology aims to combat the root cause of implant failure – bacteria. Bacterial biofilms that build up on implants (and real teeth), negatively impact gum health, leading to eventual device failure. The new implants contain a BTO nanoparticle-infused material, which leads to a negative surface charge, effectively repelling negative bacterial cell walls. The researchers have tested the implants with Streptococcus mutans, a major component of dental plaque, and showed that they reduce biofilm formation in a dose dependent manner.
The researchers hope that this effect could last for a sustained duration, enhancing the life span of such implants. “We wanted an implant material that could resist bacterial growth for a long time because bacterial challenges are not a one-time threat,” said Geelsu Hwang, a researcher involved in the study, via a UPenn press release. Interestingly, the implants also incorporate another mechanism to enhance gum health – phototherapy.
The implants can harvest electricity from movements of the mouth or through tooth brushing. They can then use this energy to power small light sources. The idea is that this light could induce a phototherapeutic effect in the surrounding gum tissue.
“Phototherapy can address a diverse set of health issues,” said Hwang. “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.”
Study in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces: Bimodal Nanocomposite Platform with Antibiofilm and Self-Powering Functionalities for Biomedical Applications