Deploying microrobotics for dental treatments and diagnostics

With its irregularities and anatomical complexities, the root canal system is one of the most clinically challenging spaces in the oral cavity. As a result, biofilm not fully cleared from the nooks and crannies of the canals remains a leading cause of treatment failure and persistent endodontic infections, and there are limited means to diagnose or assess the efficacy of disinfection. One day, clinicians may have a new tool to overcome these challenges in the form of microrobots.

Magnetically actuated 3D molded robots are controlled precisely to target the apical region of the root canal uninterrupted by the surrounding periodontium. (Image: Penn Dental Medicine)

In a proof-of-concept study, researchers from Penn Dental Medicine and its Center for Innovation & Precision Dentistry (CiPD), have shown that microrobots can access the difficult-to-reach surfaces of the root canal with controlled precision, treating and disrupting biofilms and even retrieving samples for diagnostics, enabling a more personalized treatment plan. The findings on the use of two different microrobotic platforms for endodontic therapy are published in the Journal of Dental Research.

“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, ” says Alaa Babeer, lead author of the study and a Penn Dental Medicine Doctor of Science in Dentistry (DScD) and endodontics graduate, who is now at the lab of Michel Koo, co-director of the CiPD .

“This technology offers the potential to advance clinical care on a variety of levels,” says Koo, co-corresponding author of the study with Edward Steager, a senior research investigator in Penn’s School of Engineering and Applied Science. “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.”

This microrobotics system is the outgrowth of collaborative work that has been ongoing for several years between Penn Dental Medicine and Penn Engineering.

Along with the potential to enhance endodontic treatment and tissue regeneration, the researchers see this technology as something that could have broad applications.

“From disinfecting medical devices like catheters to ensuring clean water lines, this technology holds the potential to transform areas far beyond dental medicine,” says Koo. “It could disrupt current modalities across disciplines.”

Read more at Penn Dental Medicine.

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