We’ve come a long way since the first ever airplane, developed in 1903 by the famous Wright Brothers, and featuring wings made from fabric. Modern airplanes are made of much stronger stuff now, but they’re still not perfect. Metal is extremely strong, but still not durable enough to avoid developing cracks over time.

Engineers haven’t given up the quest that the Wright Brothers started, and to this day, there is still plenty of research being done to continue improving the airplane and making it more reliable and more efficient. That’s why it shouldn’t come as a surprise that engineers are still seeking new ways to build stronger, lighter weight, and more durable airplanes.

However, there is one thing that may surprise you about this research: They’re using human teeth to do it.

Learning from the Strength of Enamel

If you pictured an airplane made of human teeth, don’t worry — that nightmarish image isn’t what researchers have in mind! Instead, engineers are so impressed by the strength and durability of the natural enamel that our teeth possess, they want to learn from it to build better airplanes.

In enamel, nature has created an incredibly strong material: Enamel is made up of microscopic stacks of strong crystals nestled in soft, organic proteins. When you bite down on something with your teeth, those stacks can hold up to pressure thanks to the strength of the crystals, but are able to flex because of the proteins that can absorb excess energy.

So far, human scientists have not been able to beat or even match nature’s design proficiency shown in tooth enamel. Enamel has exactly the combination of strength and durability to resist the vibration, pressure, and expansion and compression that airplanes have to undergo during flight.

Researcher Bongjun Yeom is doing his best to mimic the structures of enamel to create an artificial version that can make our airplanes lighter, stronger, and more resilient. His creation replaces the crystals in enamel with zinc oxide nanowires, and replaces the organic cushioning with soft polymer.

Unfortunately, while the material has shown promise in trials, it is not yet reasonable to mass produce for something the size of an airplane. To create just one micrometer of the material (that’s one thousandth of a millimeter) requires forty layers, built individually. But Yeom is working to refine this process so that it can someday grow from its current microscopic scale and be applicable to larger scale projects.

Don’t Underestimate Your Enamel

Meanwhile, your teeth can continue to benefit from the amazing strength and durability of enamel — but only if you take care of it!

Even nature’s impressive armor for your teeth requires some upkeep. To keep your enamel strong, it’s important to brush twice a day, floss daily, and see your dentist for regular checkups. Decay and cavities can damage your enamel and expose your teeth to disease, decay, and even tooth loss.

Don’t let fear of the dentist keep you from good oral health. If you’re looking for a dentist in Altamonte Springs that can help you with your dental anxiety, call (407) 834-6446 or contact us online to make an appointment.