If we polled households across the nation for the most repeated sentences between a mother and child I bet, “Did you brush your teeth”, would likely be one of them. We are taught from birth to brush and floss twice a day. It’s reiterated in Kindergarten where many classes bring their toothbrush to school to practice each day after lunch. It’s reiterated in elementary school health classes. And as a young adult, it’s reiterated when we go in for a dental checkup and come out with a much dreaded cavity. But what if you didn’t have to brush your teeth yourself anymore? A shapeshifting robotic microswarm may one day act as a toothbrush, rinse, and dental floss in one according to a team at University of Pennsylvania.
“Routine oral care is cumbersome and can pose challenges for many people, especially those who have hard time cleaning their teeth” says Hyun (Michel) Koo, a professor in the Department of Orthodontics and divisions of Community Oral Health and Pediatric Dentistry in Penn’s School of Dental Medicine and co-corresponding author on the study. “You have to brush your teeth, then floss your teeth, then rinse your mouth; it’s a manual, multi-step process. The big innovation here is that the robotics system can do all three in a single, hands-free, automated way.”
This could really help those with limited or painful mobility in their hands, wrists and fingers. It can help those who struggle with self-care routines such as those with ADHD or those on the spectrum. It could also play a huge role in helping clean surfaces in mouths that were once hard to reach due to crowding or crookedness as the microrobots can get into very tiny nooks and crannies according to the researchers.
As this technology develops, we will keep a close watch for a future iteration to reach the shelves. Parents all over the nation would find relief in their constant chasing after their children to brush their teeth if a cool new robot did it for them! For now, keep reminding them to brush and floss twice a day and don’t forget to schedule your twice yearly check-up and professional cleaning with Dr. Davey and the team!