According to a recent news release: “Smile!” a scientist at Michigan Technological University wants to lower the implant failure rate to zero using nanotechnology.

"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."

Because jawbones are somewhat thin and delicate, replacing a failed implant can be difficult. However, titanium dioxide nanotubes can battle infection, improve healing and help dental implants last a lifetime.

As the release states, 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.

The nanotubes can also be a drug delivery system. Shokuhfar's team, in collaboration with Alexander Yarin, a professor in UIC's Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, loaded TiO2 nanotubes with the anti-inflammatory drug sodium naproxen and demonstrated that it could be released gradually after implant surgery.

To fight infection, the TiO2 nanotubes can also be laced with silver nanoparticles. Shokuhfar and Craig Friedrich, who holds the Richard and Bonnie Robbins Chair of Sustainable Design and Manufacturing at Michigan Tech, are conducting research, as yet unpublished, which is focused on orthopedic implants, such as artificial hips, but which also applies to dental implants. The TiO2 nanotubes also have a cosmetic advantage: transparency.

The release also points out that Shokuhfar and Friedrich have received a provisional patent and are working with two hospitals to further develop the technology, and eventually license it. Shokuhfar expects that implants with the new nanotubular surface will be easily assimilated into the market, since titanium implants, both dental and orthopedic, have a long history.

The team's research involving sodium naproxen appears in the article "Intercalation of Anti-inflammatory Drug Molecules within TiO2 Nanotubes," coauthored by Shokuhfar; Suman Sinha-Ray of the UIC Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, Sukotjo, and Yarin, published online July 19 in RSC Advances.