“Tooth on a Chip” Reveals How Fillings Interact With Tooth Surfaces

Dentistry Today
OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff


OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff

A “tooth on a chip” developed at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) could one day enable more personalized dentistry, enabling dentists to identify dental filling materials that work better and last longer based on the patient’s own teeth and oral microbiome, according to researchers at the school.

The miniaturized tooth system is a thin slice of a human molar placed between transparent rubber slides that are etched with tiny channels through which fluids flow. The device mimics a real tooth with a cavity. Fluids and bacteria move between the cavity opening and the inner tooth. 

The researchers use a microscope to observe the tooth as it interacts with materials and bacteria. While other mini-organs such as livers and lungs have been placed on similar chips for research purposes, this is the first time an organ on a chip system has been created for dental research, the university reports. 

“Today’s cavity fillings don’t work as well as they should. They last for five, seven years on average, and then they break off,” said corresponding author Luiz E. Bertassoni, DDS, PhD, associate professor of restorative dentistry in the OHSU School of Dentistry and biomedical engineering at the OHSU School of Medicine. 

“They don’t work because we haven’t been able to figure out what’s happening at the interface of the tooth and the filling. This device can help address that by giving us a closeup view of what’s happening there in real time,” said Bertassoni.

“Years from now, dentists could extract a tooth from a patient, load it into this device, observe how a dental filling material interacts with the tooth, and pick a material that’s best for that particular patient,” said Bertassoni.

The device is designed to help scientists better understand the inner workings of dental cells in their natural environment, the researchers said. For example, researchers could use the tooth-on-a-chip to better understand how teeth form and how they respond biologically to all sorts of injuries and treatments.

“It opens up a new window into the complexity of dental care that could change the way we do dentistry quite significantly,” said Bertassoni.

The study, “The Tooth-on-a-Chip: A Microphysiologic Model System Mimicking the Biologic Interface of the Tooth With Biomaterials,” was published by Lab on a Chip.

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