Bacteria are everywhere in the human mouth. So when you put an aligner made by Invisalign, or a plastic retainer, a sleep apnea appliance, or a mouthguard on your teeth, bacteria quickly colonize the fine crevices molded into the plastic parts. Although regular cleaning knocks down the numbers of bacteria and prevents foul odors, left untreated these oral appliances quickly begin to smell, stain, and even grow plaque and tartar!
Korean Researchers Find a Solution
Southeast Asian scientists have developed a solution for this bacterial problem, as reported by Applied Materials and Interfaces. Using a form of cellulose and a polysaccharide called chitosan, the researchers created a coating that is applied to orthodontic aligners after they are made. Initial results show that bacteria have a difficult time sticking to the material, reducing their numbers significantly on the dental appliances. Tests seem to indicate that the material is strong enough to be used over the long term and the components themselves are non-toxic to humans.
An aligner is typically used for only two weeks at a time, and then a new aligner is needed to continue an orthodontic procedure. Thus the additional cost of the coating may not justify the benefit. Where larger advantages could be seen are in oral appliances that are used over the long-term, like mouthguards, sleep apnea devices, and post-orthodontic retainers.
Also, chitosan is not an animal-free product, as it is extracted from the shells of lobsters, crabs and shrimp. This creates issues for ethical vegans who would object to its use. And since millions of aligners are produced every year, applying chitosan in this way might also accelerate the collection of already declining species from the world oceans.
Since the development of this antibacterial film is only in its initial stages, these issues may yet be overcome. If Invisalign adopts such advantageous technology, the Sacramento Dentistry Group will be quick to inform our patients.