Smart Braces Take The Bite Out Of Conventional Orthodontia

One could say that donning a mouthful of braces isn’t the most pleasant of experiences. Researchers at King Abdullah University of Science & Technology (KAUST) are looking to revamp the process with smart, 3D-printed braces running on nontoxic batteries and light.

The new system centers around one lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery and two near-infrared light-emitting diodes (LEDs) on each tooth. This tech is situated on a 3D-printed, semitransparent dental strip that is flexible enough to remove in order to recharge.

The Li-ion batteries supply the power to the LEDs, turning them on and off. The rate of light therapy depends on specific programming by the dentist, determined by the individual needs of each tooth. Phototherapy has provided considerable benefits in orthodontic treatment, reducing cost, time, and promoting bone regeneration.

“We started embedding flexible LEDs inside 3D-printed braces, but they needed a reliable power supply,” says Muhammad Hussain, leader of the research, along with Ph.D. student Arwa Kutbee.

“After the incidents with the Samsung Galaxy 7 batteries exploding, we realized that traditional batteries in their current form and encapsulation don’t serve our purpose. So we redesigned the state-of-the-art lithium-ion battery technology into a flexible battery, followed by biosafe encapsulation within the braces to make a smart dental brace,” Hussain adds.

The battery redesign, mentioned by Hussain, was accomplished through dry-etching. This technique thinned the battery and increased flexibility by removing the silicon that is usually situated on its back. The final dimensions leveled at 2.25 mm x 1.7 mm.

Materials made of soft, biocompatible polymers surrounded the power supply to halt leakage. The outer coating was vital for the device to remain safe for human use.

The KAUST team sees these initial findings as a preliminary step that serves as a proof-of-concept prototype. Clinical trials are next on the to-do list.

The full details of the research can be found in an article published in the journal Flexible Electronics.

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Henry Sapiecha

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