Nanotechnology: From Small Scale to Great Innovations

By Dr. Celestino Nobrega

dr Celestino Nobrega 2007Are you prepared for the amazing benefits and innovations that Nanotechnology will shortly bring to orthodontics? Richard Feynman (, an American theoretical visionary physicist, introduced Nanotechnology as a science that embraces the capability to see and to arrange atoms and molecules according to a particular convenience or goal.

Nanotechnology involves the development and utilization of structures, devices, and systems that have properties and new functions due to their small size. A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter. For reference, consider that there are about 25,400,000 nanometers in an inch, and a single sheet of paper is about 100,000 nanometers thick.

The NNI (National Nanotechnology Initiative) is a U.S. Government research and development initiative that is focused on delivering the shared vision of “a future in which the ability to understand and control matter at the nanoscale leads to a revolution in technology and industry that benefits society.” NNI is chartered to develop a framework for sharing strategies in order to support nanoscale projects. Common goals, strategies and priorities are now being drawn for distinct science fields, such as biology, engineering, chemistry and, of course, materials science. With this support, nanotechnology R&D is taking place in academic, government, and industry laboratories across the United States.

As Orthodontics progresses into a refined science and with the support of technology advancements, unimaginable results can be achieved in the near future, especially when our specialty can leverage nanotechnology innovations such as selective biosensors. The oral cavity can be considered as an important source of information that could be extremely helpful not only for orthodontic treatment, but also for early stage diagnosis and monitoring of systemic diseases. It’s largely known that the exhaled human breath contains several Volatile Organic Compounds biomarkers (VOCs). Accurate detection of these VOCs can provide essential information for the diagnosis of those diseases. For example, Acetone (CH3COCH3), H2S, NH3, NO, and Toluene can potentially be used to evaluate diabetes, halitosis, kidney malfunction, asthma, and lung cancer, respectively.

Breath analysis, pH level and temperature data can be captured and processed by multiple sensors and could potentially reduce the medical diagnostic costs for patients suffering from chronic illnesses. In addition, patients’ quality of life could be improved. For example, diabetic individuals could possibly benefit from using non-invasive nanostructured hemitubes Silicon-doped (WO3) films to sense acetone exhaled breath levels, which can eliminate painful and invasive fingertip pricking.

As I observe the emergence of recent technology advancements within orthodontics, I can envision a future of innovative orthodontic portable devices that can accurately capture, track and transmit these previously mentioned biological signals.

In this category, we can include the exciting new innovation of dental movement acceleration devices (periodontal tissue activation by vibration). Along with achieving their primary objective of delivering pulsatile forces to accelerate tooth movement and to reduce treatment time, these devices could also be used to capture intra-oral data through the action of nanosensors and wirelessly transmit this information to personal mobile devices and laptops. The remotely collected data can be stored on the cloud to create an intelligent system for support of clinical decisions. This robust wireless communication and database creation has the potential to support multiple users throughout the orthodontic treatment process:

  • Orthodontist: electronic health records (EHR) enrichment; treatment plan refinement according to patient features; suggestions for treatment plan improvement according to case’s evolution; warning signals and alerts to monitor patient’s general and intra oral health.
  • Patient: real time communication with the Orthodontist or their staff through smartphone connection; treatment status check; sharing treatment experiences with other potential patients; automatically get FAQ answers.
  • Companies, industries and laboratories: helpful database for new products designs, services and needs.
  • Scientific research: Database for systematic reviews, Meta-Analysis.

So, are you prepared for “small” technology and big changes?



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