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Composites engineer finds new application: teeth

Vistasp Karbhari has a job any playful child would love. The professor of structural engineering at the Jacobs School makes and breaks things. He studies materials at the level of microns to get a better understanding of how bridge decks and other structures break, and uses that knowledge in novel ways. After talking to dentists, Karbhari thought, "What about dental bridges?" An expert in applying fiber-reinforced polymer composites as strong, lightweight materials for industrial applications, Karbhari used a type of polyethylene fiber that is used in bulletproof vests as reinforcement in dental composites.

Dentists are using fiber-reinforced composites in restorations, crowns, and bridges, but Karbhari says current tests are not suited to understand the complex behavior of these materials. He reported in Dental Materials that braided polyethylene fibers boosted toughness of dental composites by up to 433 percent compared to the composite alone.

Fiber-reinforced composites are tough enough that dental bridges made with them can be attached with less invasive techniques to adjacent teeth.
Fiber-reinforced composites are tough enough that dental bridges made with them can be attached with less invasive techniques to adjacent teeth.