Students exploring viability of dental treatment in space
Slovenian students have been exploring ways to make dental treatment viable during multi-year missions into space as part of a European Space Agency-picked research programme. The project, known as SpaceDent, will peak in the coming months with testing in simulated microgravity.
Looking to establish if dental instruments can be handled safely in space, the SpaceDent team has noted that humanity is preparing for a new chapter in space exploration. Multi-year missions to the Moon and Mars present new challenges, which include the ability to adapt to prolonged exposure to microgravity.
"Prolonged isolation, physiological changes and altered oral flora can lead to adverse oral health conditions which, if not adequately managed, could lead to serious health complications and jeopardise mission success, with significant economic and strategic implications," the participants of the project said.
"To maintain oral health, preventive measures and dental equipment will need to be adapted to the new environment and astronauts will need to be equipped with the appropriate knowledge to treat oral conditions."
The project brings together dental and mechanical and electrical engineering students, whose next step will be research in simulated microgravity between 20 November and 1 December with the help of an Airbus A310 Zero-G aircraft, which will take off from Bordeaux, France.
"The purpose of the experiment is to determine whether the precision of drilling and placing dental fillings in microgravity is sufficiently controlled to allow safe and reliable treatment of astronauts in space," dental student Tine Šefic explained.
Preparations have included the building of a chamber at the Ljubljana Faculty of Mechanical Engineering that mimics the environment of a dental chair with a patient's head and in which simulated oral treatment will be attempted during parabolic flight above the Atlantic Ocean.
The SpaceDent project, developed with the help of mentor Aleš Fidler from the Ljubljana Faculty of Medicine, co-mentor Simon Oman from the Ljubljana Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, and with the financial support of the Ljubljana Faculty of Medicine, won the European Space Agency's PETRI Student Programme competition in January this year.