Nanotubes can help improve dental implants

HOUGHTON – According to Michigan Technological University Assistant Professor of Medical Engineering Tolou Shokuhfar, there is a problem with the current state of bone implants, whether it be for dental or orthopedic: sometimes they fail.

“Once they fail, it’s probably related to infection and then they have to go through another surgery, which is called revision surgery,” Shokuhfar said. “The bone is already decayed so there is a lack of bone there and the doctor has to do a surgery to take out the problematic bone and the implant. It’s not very healthy for the patient and has extra costs and is more risky.”

But Shokuhfar believes a solution to this problem has been found using nanotechnology.

Shokuhfar said she investigated the major problems related to the failure of the implants and found there is not enough bone interlock with the implant.

“What it really means is that once you put the implant in the place, the first thing that comes into contact with the implant is body fluid and cells,” she said. “So if they can make good integration with the surface of the implant it can function better.”

In order to get implants to stick better, instead of using a sandblasting technique or a coating (debris from these efforts may get into the blood stream and cause a sort of toxicity), making thicker and longer pores on the surface of the implant, which are called titanium dioxide nanotubes, is an option which has been showing promise.

“Therefore we are not introducing any new material onto the surface and not introducing a coating onto the surface,” she said. “We are just simply changing the form of the surface into a very small structure of nanotubes.”

Shokuhfar likened the nanotubes to walking on the surface of something that is flat, like ice, which is slippery, but is made easier to navigate through anchors.

“The bone tissue attaches and grabs to these nanotubes better,” she said. “It grows better.”

Another benefit to the nanotubes is multi-functionality, which means that in addition to a better grip on bone tissue, medicine can also be put into the dental implant because it is hollow inside the nanotubes.

“The doctor doesn’t need to give drugs after the surgery,” she said. “We can have them already in the implant.”

Shokuhfar said this method is very cost effective and very green. It doesn’t need hazardous chemicals.

As of now, getting these nanotubes for dental implants isn’t available, since the technology must go through a series of steps, such as FDA approval.

However, Shokuhfar said she and her team are in the process of patenting this technology and because this technology does not require additional materials, the process of making it available to the public should not take as long as it would if new materials were introduced.

“We’re changing a small thing, but making a big impact,” she said. “We’re just making pores into the surface of what is already out there and the drugs that we’re going to be using are already used by doctors. We’re adding a step to it.”

For people who need dental implants, using this new technology when it becomes available shouldn’t cost too much more.

Shokuhfar said that while she doesn’t know for sure what the cost might be, she thinks it wouldn’t cost more.

“It’s not commercialized yet, so I don’t know what the cost would be.”

But the long-term benefits of the dental implants would be a faster healing process and an implant that could last a lifetime.

“It’s more promising and more helpful with less complications,” she said.