Orthodontists in the University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG) in collaboration with Zernike Institute of the RUG are currently testing an anti-bacterial material to see whether it is suitable for making braces and dental prostheses. The aim is to make well fitting orthodontic braces and dental prostheses from antibacterial polymer using 3D printing technology. This should prevent plaque formation and accumulation around the brace during orthodontic treatment. Plaque can cause white spots lesions and dental decay on tooth surface. It will probably be a few more years before these products come into the market.
Wearing an orthodontic brace is becomingly increasingly common in the Netherlands. 40% of the 12-year old Dutch adolescents wear a brace, and more and more adults are opting for straight and white teeth and a beautiful smile. Research has shown that approximately 60% of all orthodontic patients experience clinical complications related to oral bacteria plaque during their treatment period, which usually lasts two to three years. In fact 15% of these patients even need professional care after completion of the treatment.
‘This problem is most common among young people’, says Professor of Orthodontics Yijin Ren, ‘Children of this age have trouble brushing their teeth even without a brace. It becomes more difficult to brush teeth with a brace. Composite materials used to glue brackets to the teeth are a good medium for oral bacteria growth. These bacteria can damage the enamel layer, causing not only unesthetic white spots on the surface, but also dental caries resulting from decalcification of the teeth’.
In America alone, the costs for orthodontic ‘after-care’ comes to a staggering $ 500 million. ‘Not yet to mention growing economies such as China, Brazil and Turkey, where orthodontics has become a booming market’, says Ren. It is hardly surprising that researchers world - wide are looking for new materials to tackle the problem.
In the UMCG, orthodontists are working closely with chemists, microbiologists and a physicist to test a highly versatile polymer for dental adhesives, braces, bridges and crowns. This material kills oral bacteria as soon as they attach themselves. ‘The ultimate aim is to use the material, in combination with 3D printing technology currently being developed, to make braces and prostheses’, explains Ren.
According to Ren, it may be some time before the first antibacterial braces come into the market. She stresses that until then, information about oral hygiene, proper tooth brushing and regular dental check-ups remains essential.
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