"Dental implants can greatly improve the lives of people who need them," said Tolou Shokuhfar, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering. "But there are two main issues that concern dentists: infection and separation from the bone."
The mouth is a dirty place, so bacterial infections are a risk after implant surgery, and sometimes bone fails to heal securely around the device. Because jawbones are somewhat thin and delicate, replacing a failed implant can be difficult, not to mention expensive. Generally, dentists charge between $2,000 and $4,000 to install a single implant, and the procedure is rarely covered by insurance.
Enter a nano-material that can battle infection, improve healing, and help dental implants last a lifetime: titanium dioxide nanotubes.
Shokuhfar is now working with Cortino Sukotjo, a clinical assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) College of Dentistry on a dental implant with a surface made from TiO2 nanotubes, but she has been making and testing them for several years. "We have done toxicity tests on the nanotubes, and not only did they not kill cells, they encouraged growth," she said. She has already demonstrated that bone cells grow more vigorously and adhere better to titanium coated with TiO2 nanotubes than to conventional titanium surfaces. That could keep more dental implants in place.