Dental elements such as crowns and bridges are made from well-known metals, polymers and ceramics but their dental wear properties are often poorly understood. Clinical trials examining the wear of human teeth are expensive and time-consuming.
Researchers from the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Bristol and Bristol Dental School have developed a sophisticated new robotic wear simulator to evaluate restorative materials used to treat dental problems. This simulator can mimic the forces and dynamics sustained by human teeth within the mouth, accurately reflecting the kind of damage and wear materials will undergo. Crowns, bridges or single artificial teeth can all be tested and evaluated quickly. Says Daniel Raabe, the project co-designer, “Clinical trials last between two and three years, we can speed it up to five to ten days, so the dental researchers who develop new restorative materials, composite materials, porcelains, they have got a quick indication of how materials behave in the future.” A human jaw is a powerful and complex piece of natural machinery, allowing a person to chew in many different ways. To allow the robot to better mimic the human jaw, measurements were taken inside a number of people’s mouths using infrared cameras and a force measuring device measured the biting and grinding left to right and up and down forces. But some dentists are still uncertain whether a robot can accurately replicate the environment within the mouth. That’s because it can vary according to a multitude of factors including whether we suffer certain illnesses, whether we are stressed, or how rigorous we are about oral hygiene.