Recently, a group of American and Brazilian researchers co-developed an organ-on-a-chip model to improve the in vitro study on the influence of biomaterials had on living dental pulp cells. This scaled-down tooth system comes with a thin slice of human molar sandwiched in between slips of clear rubber sheets that are engraved with fluid-flowing channels. The model recreates the environment of a real human tooth with cavity, whereby bacteria and flowing substances are moving around the cavity opening and inner tooth.

Towards personalized dentistry

It is relatively common for researchers to design models mimicking different parts of bodies in a laboratory setting. Previously, liver and lungs were both placed on chips to study drug reactions and mechanical and biochemical behaviors respectively. Nevertheless, this is the first time a tooth-on-a-chip is being created for research purpose. Related findings were published in Lab on a Chip, the monthly peer-reviewed journal managed by the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Primarily, researchers hope that the model will enable them to acquire a better understanding of how teeth are formed and their biological responses to various types of injuries and treatments. This has become especially vital in the past five to seven years as some dentists noticed cavity fillings are more succumbed to falling off or they don’t work as well as they used to be. As such, the model opens a window for dentists to figure out the interactions between the filling and surface of the tooth by giving them a real-time and close-up view of what is happening.

Researchers also believe the model is a step towards personalized dentistry because in the long run, dentists may extract a patient’s tooth and insert it into the model, to observe how cavity filling interacts with the dental cells in natural environment and from there, select filling materials that will yield the best outcome for the patient.

Other potentials

Apart from finding the best dental filling, other researchers thought personalized dentistry stamping from analyzing patients’ genetic information, lifestyle and environmental changes could prevent diseases, save on treatment costs and ultimately change the quality of one’s life. This is particularly prominent in dental caries (i.e., tooth decay) and periodontal disease (i.e., inflammation of the gum).

According to World Health Organization, 60-90% of school children and a good number of adults considered dental caries as the main cause of tooth loss globally. However, causes of dental caries often vary from dietary habits, inadequate personal oral care, use of fluoride, to salivary composition, taste preference, genetic factors, immune responses and so on. Therefore, it can be challenging for dentists to determine when caries may occur until they occur.

Personalized dentistry may assist in dealing with the challenges or even the onset at an earlier stage via anticipation of potential risk factors and providing precise and concentrated care over time.

Author Bio

Hazel Tang A science writer with data background and an interest in the current affair, culture, and arts; a no-med from an (almost) all-med family. Follow on Twitter.