Above: Sequential images of a magnetic microbot ploughing through a petri dish containing a biofilm (Credit: University of Pennsylvania) An American research and development team made up of engineers, biologists and dentists at the University of Pennsylvania have created the next generation of dental assistants – teeny-tiny micro-robots. These micro-robots are capable of cleaning biofilms, such as oral plaque, with great control and precision via an external magnetic field.

What are bio-films?

Bio-films are thin, slimy, highly-resilient films containing bacterial colonies that can be home to several hundred bacterial species. Bio-films secret a glue-like substance and can stick extremely well to any non-shedding surface. Examples of biofilms include oral, arterial and brain plaques, as well as biofilms in catheters or water lines.

How do dental micro-robots work?

Dental micro-robots are a type of CAR device which stands for Catalytic Antimicrobial Robots. They are able to completely and systematically breakdown and remove biofilms from a range of surfaces, including the curved surfaces of a tooth. At the same time, CARs kill embedded bacteria and all other residual material until there is nothing left of the biofilm but a completely clean surface. How are dental micro-robots controlled? Dental micro-robots, or CARs, are controlled and driven by external magnetic fields, in a similar way to how an aquarium magnet cleaner uses a magnetic handle to control a magnetic scrubber on the inside of aquarium glass. CARs, like aquarium scrubbers, are magnetic also, and follow the direction of an external magnetic field. Pending further technological development, the motion and direction of the CARs will be actively informed by 3D image scans of the dental plaque sooner or later, which will make them more intelligent and effective at targeting dental plaque on a range of tooth surfaces. TC Dental Group micro-robots  


Geelsu Hwang, Amauri J. Paula, Elizabeth E. Hunter, Yuan Liu, Alaa Babeer, Bekir Karabucak, Kathleen Stebe, Vijay Kumar, Edward Steager, Hyun Koo. Catalytic antimicrobial robots for biofilm eradication. Science Robotics, 2019; 4 (29): eaaw2388 DOI: 10.1126/scirobotics.aaw2388