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Ivy League Researchers develop New-age Micro-robot Swarms for Brushing and Flossing

A shapeshifting robotic microswarm may one day act as a toothbrush, rinse, and dental floss in one.

Micro-robots are coming to take your breath away. No, quite literally! Yes, in a cutting edge development, a team of multi-disciplinary researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have demonstrated a hands-free system of micro-robots for dental cleaning, brushing and flossing. The researchers from the School of Dental Medicine and School of Engineering and Applied Science have developed an automated system for the treatment and removal of tooth-decay-causing bacteria and dental plaque. In future, this could completely take away the pain and challenges related to daily task of brushing and flossing, particularly among physically-challenged people with limited movements or limited dexterity.

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Image of smiling person using new technology to clean teeth: Toothbrushing Microrobots. Innovative robotic "swarm" technology improves oral hygiene. step one is align. Step two is take shape. Step three is kill microbes. Step four is brush and floss
source: Penn Dental Medicine and Penn Engineering

What are Micro-robots System for Oral Healthcare Technology

Micro-robot system developed by the Penn Dental Medicine and Penn Engineering consists of nano-particles of ferrous oxide that act as both magnetic and catalytic substance. Apart from cleaning and flossing dental plaque using magnetic properties, the micro-robot units also product certain types of anti-microbials that stop oral bacterial growth and plaque formation.

The study has been published in the journal ACS Nano.

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Researchers and medical students, working in the Department of Orthodontics and divisions of Community Oral Health and Pediatric Dentistry in Penn’s School of Dental Medicine used synthetic models of human teeth to understand how micro-robot assemblies turn into shape-shifting systems. These shape-shifting systems eliminate the sticky biofilms that lead to cavities and gum diseases.

Disrupting oral care technology with micro-robots

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Graphic shows how nanoparticle-based microrobots can remove dental plaque from teeth with their motion and the activity of hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) to kill microbes
Source: Arranged in bristle-like structures, a robotic microswarm of iron oxide nano-particles effectively cleaned plaque from teeth. The nano-particles have both magnetic and catalytic properties; catalyzed hydrogen peroxide produced free radicals that eliminated tooth decay-causing pathogens as well. (Image: Minjun Oh/Penn Dental Medicine)

Microswarm of micro-robots created by the Penn researchers within the Center for Innovation & Precision Dentistry (CiPD) has completely changed the way toothbrushes has been used for millennia. The iron oxide nano-particles catalytically activate hydrogen peroxide to release free radicals that can kill tooth decay-causing bacteria. These further degrade the dental plaque biofilms. This catalytical nano-particles were advanced into building blocks of magnetically controlled micro-robots. With better training, these micro-swarm of nano-particles in the micro-robots can be assembled and automatically controlled for better motion movement.


Hyun (Michel) Koo, Professor in the Department of Orthodontics and divisions of Community Oral Health and Pediatric Dentistry in the School of Dental Medicine; co-director of the Center for Innovation & Precision Dentistry at the University of Pennsylvania

Edward Steager, Senior research investigator in Penn’s School of Engineering and Applied Science

Koo and Steager’s coauthors on the paper are Penn Dental Medicine’s Min Jun Oh, Alaa Babeer, Yuan Liu, and Zhi Ren and Penn Engineering’s Jingyu Wu, David A. Issadore, Kathleen J. Stebe, and Daeyeon Lee.

This work was supported in part by the National Institute for Dental and Craniofacial Research (grants DE025848 and DE029985), Procter & Gamble, and the Postdoctoral Research Program of Sungkyunkwan University.

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