Research news

Dental care preparation for multi-year missions to the Moon and Mars

Publish Date: 13.10.2023

Category: Our contribution to sustainable development goals

Sustainable development goals: 3 Good health and well-being (Indicators)

SpaceDent is a multidisciplinary student research group working together in the ESA Academy Experiments programme of the European Space Agency (ESA). It is striving to take the first steps in preparing dental care for long-term missions to the Moon and Mars. The purpose of the research is to determine whether the preparation of teeth and creation of fillings in microgravity is sufficiently controlled for the safe treatment of astronauts. The research will be conducted by two students of dental medicine, who during three parabolic flights and 30 minutes of microgravity will perform dental procedures in a simulated weightless environment. With the findings they obtain, the students want to promote the further development of space dental care. Through innovative and affordable solutions the adaptation of the space technology could ensure on the global level access to universal dental care for all inhabitants of Earth.

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The project, which was set in motion through student initiative and with the help of Vice Dean for the field of dental medicine Prof. Dr Janja Jan, mentor Prof. Dr Aleš Fidler, co-mentor Asst. Prof. Dr Simon Oman and with the financial support of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Ljubljana, will reach its apex between 20 November 2023 and 1 December 2023, when an Airbus A310 Zero-G aircraft will take off from Bordeaux in France. During three parabolic flights over the Atlantic Ocean it will complete a total of 93 parabolas (Figure 1), which will generate 22-second intervals of weightlessness. Fastened to the aircraft will be a research construction that simulates a patient in a simplified dental surgery environment. The dental medicine students will prepare and form fillings on research teeth during the 22-second intervals of microgravity, while work on the control teeth will be conducted during periods of stable flight and when the aircraft is on the ground.


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Figure 1. Progress of parabolic flight with periods of normogravity (grey line), hypergravity (dark blue) and microgravity (light blue). The entire cycle takes 3 minutes, and the period of microgravity 22 secs. Source: ESA

In order to carry out the research, students of mechanical and electrical engineering in the student workshop named Peskovnik (sandpit) at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering will create a structure adapted for parabolic flight that simulates a simplified dental surgery environment (Figure 2). Creation of the structure covers making an isolated research space with dental instruments, installation of electric and filtration systems, adaptation to the changing gravity of the parabolas and meeting the standards of the aviation industry. In order to prevent the spread of drilled-off tooth particles around the space during microgravity – which would irritate the eyes and respiratory organs – the research space will be isolated with transparent polycarbonate sheets. Access to the closed space will be through two openings in a laminated glove box.


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Figure 2. Structure adapted for parabolic flight that simulates a simplified dental surgery environment.

Using 3D scanning, the changes before the flight and after it will be captured in images. This will be followed by analysis through segmentation of the 3D model based on colour. Using software tools for image analysis we will measure the surface of insufficiently and excessively prepared caries lesions and the volume of excessively and insufficiently filled spaces for fillings. Through two-way analysis of variance we will compare the values of parameters obtained during the period of microgravity, stable flight and on the ground.

 This is the first research of its kind, so the eventual findings will be hard to predict. Despite reduced manual support and reduced control of stomatological instruments, it might be the case that the adapted position and precision of treatment could be suitable for safe dental care in space. The findings will provide a starting point for evaluating and optimising dental procedures for safe and effective remedying of dental problems.

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Figure 3. Tine Šefic, Asst. Prof. Dr Simon Oman, Tomi Štucin, Hana Prtenjak, Tomaž Štucin, Tomaž Tomšič, Matic Hvala, Mitja Dergan, Prof. Dr Aleš Fidler

Group members: Tine Šefic, Mitja Dergan, Hana Prtenjak, Tomi Štucin, Matic Hvala, Rok Gerbec, Tomaž Tomšič, Tomaž Škapin

Co-mentor: Asst. Prof. Dr Simon Oman, mechanical engineering expert

Mentor: Prof. Dr Aleš Fidler, doctor of dental medicine


Instagram, YouTube, Facebook: @spacedentproject

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