Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have developed a microrobot system that can help with biofilm disruption, drug delivery, and sample retrieval, all within the restrictive space of the root canal. It can be difficult for dentists to know if they have removed all the infectious material when performing a root canal, and failure to do so will typically result in an infection reoccurring. The space is difficult to access and disinfect properly, and so these researchers turned to microrobotics as a solution. The microrobots consists of iron oxide nanoparticles and can be manipulated using magnetic fields. The bots can be deployed as a swarm to disrupt biofilms or as 3D-printed helix-shaped robots embedded with iron oxide nanoparticles that can deliver drugs to help fight infection in the root canal.
Getting a root canal is not a particularly pleasant experience, but if it fails and the infection reoccurs, then you will typically need a follow up procedure, which is equally unpleasant and comes with a side order of resentment and frustration. To help avoid this scenario, the best option is to remove as much of the infectious material at the base of the tooth as possible, but the space is narrow and difficult to access and assess.
Enter microrobots, the apparent solution to every medical challenge in the current era. These researchers have designed a magnetic edition that is specifically intended for root canal procedures. “The technology could enable multimodal functionalities to achieve controlled, precision targeting of biofilms in hard-to-reach spaces, obtain microbiological samples, and perform targeted drug delivery, ” said Alaa Babeer, one of the creators of the new microrobots.
The microrobots consist of iron oxide nanoparticles, and can be used as a swarm that can enter the tooth, disrupt biofilms, and remove bacterial samples for later investigation. The other format consists of 3D printed helices that contain the nanoparticles. These are intended as more of a delivery device with the goal of bringing antibiotics, for example, to the root canal.
So far, the UPenn researchers have tested the microrobots in 3D printed replicas of human teeth that they inoculated with various endodontic bacteria. They successfully manipulated a swarm of the microrobots into the root canal, disrupted the cultured biofilm, removed a sample of the bacteria, and then confirmed through microscopy that all the nanoparticles were extracted from the canal after the procedure.
“This technology offers the potential to advance clinical care on a variety of levels,” said Michel Koo, another researcher involved in the study. “One important aspect is the ability to have diagnostic as well as therapeutic applications. In the microswarm platform, we can not only remove the biofilm, but also retrieve it, enabling us identify what microorganisms caused the infection. In addition, the ability to conform to the narrow and difficult-to-reach spaces within the root canal allows for a more effective disinfection in comparison to the files and instrumentation techniques presently used.”
Study in journal Journal of Dental Research: Microrobotics for Precision Biofilm Diagnostics and Treatment