Teeth are intended to last a lifetime, but injury and disease can often lead to the need for a replacement. From George Washington’s (apocryphal) wooden teeth, people have used a variety of metals, ivory, ceramics, and plastic resins to create false teeth. Researchers from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands have been developing a new plastic material that could revolutionize replacement teeth.

Andreas Herrmann and his colleagues have created a plastic material with antimicrobial properties. They added ammonium salts to the plastic resin, and then tested the material in a mixture of saliva and the bacteria that causes tooth decay. After six days, the material killed 99% of the bacteria compared with only 1% using the plastic without the added salts. This development alone is newsworthy, but the researchers were also able to print replacement teeth using 3D printing technology. This means that existing teeth can be scanned using standard imaging techniques, and then an exact replica created out of the antibacterial plastic.

More testing is required to make sure that there are no long-term consequences of using this material, but if it works as anticipated, it will make it easier and faster to create false teeth for patients. And as a bonus, the new teeth will kill oral bacteria to help protect the remaining teeth.