Flossing takes a front seat thanks to shapeshifting microbots

Flossing takes a front seat thanks to shapeshifting microbots

The dentist adjusts his instrument in your mouth, frowning. You tense, gripping the armrests. Silence. Then, the dreaded question: “Have you been flossing?”

Maybe you have been. Maybe you really, really meant to, but forgot. Or maybe your eyes slide over to the dusty floss pick packet every night … and you look away.

Whether you do, don’t or won’t, the good news it may no longer be up to you. That is, not if the University of Pennsylvania’s shapeshifting microbots have their way.

Yes, that’s right — a swarm of tiny building blocks in the form of nanoparticles may one day be your toothbrush, rinse and dental floss in one. While the study doesn’t specify their form at rest, the particles, composed of iron oxide, act as bristles that can extend, sweep and even go back and forth between a space, much like flossing.

Although a boon for the lazy, the techie revamp of a mundane necessity would be a welcome solution for those who lack the dexterity or physical capability to brush and floss without help.

Using a magnetic field to direct the iron oxide nanoparticle-based microrobots into antimicrobial bristle- and floss-shaped arrangements, researchers were even able to account for things like gum sensitivity.

Part of the impetus for the study was the static landscape of tooth cleaning, which has remained largely unchanged since the advent of the electric toothbrush. This study was proof-of-concept, which is another way of saying you’ll likely have to keep brushing and flossing the old-fashioned way for some time.

But take heart — one day, you just might have very tiny robots brush and floss your teeth, and even then, drag your feet about it.

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