During the past six years, the two groups have been working on a plasma brush. The brush makes fillings less painful and longer lasting, which means fewer visits to the dentist.
“Plasma brush is a cool flame of gas discharge in open air” Qingsong Yu, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering said. “When you use the brush to treat a caries infected tooth, the surface of the tooth will change making it more compatible with dental composite filling. It will match with the filling material and improve the bonding.”
So far, lab results on pulled teeth have shown that fillings aided by the plasma brush are 60 percent stronger than the current method. Typically, fillings need to be refilled between five and eight years after the initial fix. With the plasma brush, they could last as long as 10 to 15 years.
“Dentists can only drill a teeth two or three times before they run out of room, so they have to pull the tooth,” Yu said.
Yu, Prof. Hao Li at MU and Prof. Yong Wang at UMKC Dental School began working on the brush for dental applications roughly six years ago. They received a National Science Foundation grant of $270,000 to support their research works. In 2011, they have also received an RO1 grant of $1.88 million from National Institute of Health (NIH) to support their research. Meanwhile, Nanova, Inc, a faculty start-up company located in Columbia, has received an NIH Small Business for Innovative Research (SBIR) grant of $1.69 million for the plasma brush device development. Dr. Meng Chen, Chief Scientist of Nanova, Inc, is the Principal Investigator of the grant and is leading the efforts in perfecting the design of the plasma brush for use in dental offices.
Clinical trials are expected to begin early 2012 at the University of Tennessee in Memphis Dental School under the direction of Professor Liang Hong. The team hopes the trials will improve the design of the plasma brush and find potential investors for the product.
“We’re taking a prototype to dentists and asking them to evaluate it for their convenience,” Yu said. “It must be incorporated into the design to be effective and safe.”
The brush might have other uses in the dental office, like cleaning and whitening. Lab results have shown it only takes about 30 seconds for the plasma brush to disinfect teeth. The results haven’t shown any negative side effects.
Most of the changes will be to the size and shape of the brush. It’s most appealing quality, complete painlessness, will not change. Because plasma is the same temperature as a human body, people cannot feel it when it is on their skin, teeth or gums.
“That sounds awesome,” sophomore Olivia Firmand said. “One year I had my teeth sealed, and it must have been bad because I ended up having eight cavities. I was freaking out so badly they had to sedate me.”
Yu said the plasma brush will not make the process of getting a filling completely painless, as it is still necessary to drill the patient’s infected tooth.
“It will mostly improve and increase the lifespan of a filling so you don’t have to go back many many times,” Yu said.
By Megan Hager
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