Microscopic Robots Scrape at Bacterial Biofilms to Clean Teeth

Anyone unaware of what biofilms are should know that brushing one’s teeth and receiving regular dental cleanings are recommended primarily to fight bacterial biofilms. Bacteria group together and protect themselves with a unique shield that biological and chemical methods have difficulty penetrating. The stuff is so persistent that dentists use metal tools to scrape the stuff away.

The team’s micro-robots were effective at cleaning hard-to-reach surfaces. This time-lapse image shows one of the molded, helicoid-shaped robots traveling inside a tooth canal. (Image: Alaa Babeer, Elizabeth E. Hunter, and Hyun Koo)

Now researchers at Penn State University are pointing to the possibility that tiny robots will be able to crawl around and scrape at bacterial films wherever they find them. The team developed two types of microscopic robots, one of which works on the surface of teeth, while the other can get into very narrow spaces. The robots bring with them catalytic molecules that are able to kill the bacteria within the biofilms, destroy the matrix holding them together, and clean up all the mess left behind.

One of these so-called “catalytic antimicrobial robots” is actually a bunch of iron-oxide nanoparticles in a solution that can be controlled by magnets to scrape at biofilms, sort of like a snow-plow. The other type of robots are nanoparticles embedded into gel molds having 3D shapes. These can pass through narrow cavities and attack the biofilms.

While the technology is interesting for dentistry, it may have a great deal of applications for cleaning medical instruments, preventing build-up of biofilms around implants, and even keeping water pipes clean!

“Existing treatments for biofilms are ineffective because they are incapable of simultaneously degrading the protective matrix, killing the embedded bacteria, and physically removing the biodegraded products,” said Hyun Koo, one of the researchers of the study published in Science Robotics. “These robots can do all three at once very effectively, leaving no trace of biofilm whatsoever.”

Study in Science Robotics: Catalytic antimicrobial robots for biofilm eradication…

Via: Penn…