Plasma “toothbrush” burns out bacteria

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The plasma "toothbrush" uses a jet of flame to clean out cavities.

It sounds like something out of science fiction–maybe a mad scientist’s lab–but a “plasma toothbrush” could soon arrive at a dentist near you. We half-expected it to use a laser beam.

Close, but not quite. Actually the “brush” works by using chemical reactions to to clean out cavities and fillings, releasing them in a jet of cool flame (!) According to researchers, this not only kills bacteria but creates a better surface for bonding fillings.

Engineers from the University of Missouri developed the plasma toothbrush in cooperation with researchers from Nanova Inc. They estimate there are 200 million tooth restorations (fillings, etc.) in the USA alone each year. All together these procedures cost about USD 50 billion.

What’s more current dental equipment is rather inefficient. Hao Li, an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Missouri, said:

A tooth can only support two or three restorations before it must be pulled. Our studies indicate that fillings are 60% stronger with the plasma brush, which would increase the filling lifespan. This would be a big benefit to the patient, as well as dentists and insurance companies.

Human trials are set to being in early 2012. If all goes well and the device receives FDA approval it could reach dentists in 2013. And fear not, dental patients, it’s completely painless…