Creating replacement parts for various bits of the human body is one of the many areas in which 3D printing has huge potential. Dental implants are on that list, too, and if new research out of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands comes to fruition, 3D-printed replacement teeth could come with the added bonus of being able to destroy 99 percent of bacteria that they come into contact with.

The research team, led by Andreas Hermann, has developed a process to manufacture 3D-printed teeth and braces capable of destroying bacteria using a special type of antimicrobial resin.

To create the resin, the researchers combined antibacterial ammonium salts with standard dental resins. The resultant mixture was then hardened using ultraviolet light and put inside a 3D printer to print samples of replacement teeth. The positive charge on the ammonium salts gives the resin its bacteria-killing property, disrupting negatively charged bacterial membranes and causing them to burst and die.

To test the antibacterial capacity of the resin the researchers applied a mixture of saliva and tooth decay-causing bacteria Streptococcus mutans on the samples of the replacement teeth and found that the material was effective in destroying 99 percent of the bacteria colonies on the sample.

The material can kill bacteria on contact but is not harmful to human cells, Hermann told New Scientist.

It's not all smiles though. In a review of the study Nicholas Staropoli, a research associate for the American Council on Science and Health, points out that while the teeth could prevent oral infections, such as endocarditis, and preserve dental implants, it could also wipe out helpful bacteria that help protect a person from harmful pathogens.

As of now the material is still a prototype and according to the researchers further testing will be required before human trials can be conducted.

In addition to inhibiting bacterial damage to teeth implants, the researchers believe the material may also be suitable for orthopaedic and non-medical applications, such as water purification, food packaging and children’s toys.

The research paper entitled 3D-Printable Antimicrobial Composite Resins is published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.