The iconic 80s sci-fi flick Blade Runner — set in 2019 — imagined a future where flying cars zipped around the cityscape and super-advanced robots could be easily mistaken for humans. Oh, how wrong it was. Technology, and dental technology is not quite there…
In reality, current technological development is more concerned with personalisation — using technology to find and apply individualised solutions. While that’s not quite as sexy as flying cars and humanoid robots, it is incredibly useful in the healthcare field as practitioners gain the tools to treat patients according to their individual biological needs.
It’s all about throwing away the one-size-fits-all approach to healthcare in favour of a more individualised approach, and dentistry is in a prime position to lead the personalisation revolution.
Just ask the researchers at Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) who have come up with an innovative ‘tooth-on-a-chip’ device. This pint-sized piece of technology promises to help dentists understand how an individual patient’s teeth and oral microbiome will respond to specific dental materials and treatments.
Dentistry is in a prime position to lead the personalisation revolution.
A tiny sample of the patient’s tooth is sandwiched between two transparent rubber slides that are etched with channels. Fluids are then introduced into the slides and flow through the channels to the tooth sample.
The slide is examined under a microscope to assess how the patient’s tooth sample reacts to specific minerals and bacteria.
We’re glad you asked. Let’s let Luiz E. Bertassoni, associate professor of restorative dentistry at OHSU, answer:
“Today’s cavity fillings don’t work as well as they should. They last for five, seven years on average, and then they break off. They don’t work because we haven’t been able to figure out what’s happening at the interface of the tooth and the filling.
“This device can help address that by giving us a close-up view of what’s happening there in real-time. Years from now, dentists could extract a tooth from a patient, load it into this device, observe how a dental filling material interacts with the tooth, and pick a material that’s best for that particular patient.”
This device gives us a close-up view of what’s happening in real-time.
That’s a very perceptive pickup. The ‘tooth-on-a-chip’ technology indeed has applications beyond just selecting the best filling material for the patient.
Its principal purpose is to help dental labs and technicians better understand how their patients’ dental cells react in their natural environment.
That means researchers will be able to learn more about how teeth are formed, and track their biological responses to a wide range of injuries and treatments. This will likely help dental scientists improve and personalise most dental treatments, which will help you to deliver better patient outcomes across the board.
Or, as Bertassoni concludes: “It opens up a new window into the complexity of dental care that could change the way we do dentistry quite significantly.”
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