All those pretty ads on TV showing how new toothbrushes sweep away build-up and bacteria from teeth have quite a bit of science behind them. Improvements in the brush shape, the bristles, and the toothpaste require a great deal of experimentation to see which are more effective at removing unwanted material. This is slow, tedious, and expensive, so researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Mechanics of Materials IWM in Freiburg, Germany have created a simulation that can be used to try out different bristle types and toothpaste formulations before going into a physical lab.
The simulator allows for tuning of parameters such as the size, shape, and elasticity of the bristles, as well as the composition, dimensions, and quantity of the abrasive particles within the toothpaste. Additionally, the tooth enamel is simulated within the software, so the cleaning methods developed will help prevent caries and tooth decay while causing minimal damage to the enamel.
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But do the findings correspond to reality? The comparative experiments were conducted by Dr. Andreas Kiesow and his staff at the Fraunhofer Institute for Microstructure of Materials and Systems IMWS in Halle as well as the MikroTribologie Centrum µTC in Karlsruhe. In the tests, a brush bristle was placed in a fastener and brushed at a constant speed across an artificial tooth enamel model onto which toothpaste had been applied. It was concluded that the simulation can precisely predict how the toothpaste and bristles will affect the tooth enamel. At a later stage, it will also be able to predict the effectiveness of the toothpaste and brush at removing the biofilm from teeth.