Our research currently focusses on "Dental Sleep Medicine", which is research into and treatment of sleep related breathing problems, such as snoring and sleep apnea. Often these problems can be alleviated with dental appliances that fit over the teeth and that pull the lower jaw forward. This increases the diameter of the upper airways in the throat and prevents them from collapsing, thus reducing snoring and sleep apnea, and improving sleep quality and health. This techique works well for people where snoring is caused in the upper throat airways. A disadvantage is that in some persons the teeth may move with time, due to the constant pulling forces at night. So a good balance between improved sleep and health, but not too much discomfort has to be sought.
The picture above shows the difference in the upper throat airways (blue): at the left without antisnoring device, and at the right with an antisnoring device, in a patient where it worked well. Usually these devices are named "MAD" or "MRA", short for Mandibular Advancement Device, resp. Mandibular Repositioning Appliance.
There do exist a lot of different MRA types and models. Main categories are (1) custom-made models adapted to the patient, which are sometimes equiped with data sensors; and (2) so-called "boil-and-bite" models, which are standard models that are softened in hot water, after which the patient bites in it and waits until the model is solidified again. Custom models are often more comfortable and give a better fit, and are thus preferred.
At our Lab Dental Materials we focus on the mechanical aspects of this research, for example we develop appliances and measurement-devices for use in the hospital. The technologies we use for modeling range from traditional techniques such as moulding and casting; to modern 3D-CAD design and 3D-printing, depending on what is most suitable.
We also do mechanical measurements and fatigue tests on existing antisnoring appliances, both for our own research projects, as well as for third parties. These measurements are done on a computer controlled hydraulic test machine.
Patient care and Treatment of apnea and snoring is done at the nearby University Hospital of Antwerp (= UZA - Universitair Ziekenhuis Antwerpen). See: www.uza.be/behandeling/behandeling-van-slaapapneu-en-snurken (link opens in new window)
In-house development of research equipment has always been important in our lab. Due to our specific research needs, the desired equipment is not always commercially available. So we need to develop it ourself, or convert existing equipment. Own developments include: microshear fatigue testing machine, flexural fatigue testing machine, various sample clamps, other machine parts, driver- and signal-conditioning electronics, LabVIEW programming, CAD-design of dedicated dental appliances in 3D, all sorts of prototyping via 3D-printing, etc... For prototyping, we have two Ultimaker2 3D-printers. CAD-design is done in the 3D-editor "DesignSpark Mechanical", and slicing is done in Ultimaker Cura. Machining of metal parts is done in the well equiped central workshop of the university.
Previous main research areas focused on the strength of dental materials, and the strength of dental bondings and their resistance to failure. Chewing-movements in the mouth create a lot of mechanical stress on teeth and on dental fillings and their bondings. This causes fatigue phenomena, such as cracks and fractures. In our lab, we can simulate dental restorations in vitro in our fatigue machines, and subject them to well controlled loads.