Dentistry space: the story of the principle

July 30, 2012

When I was a child I dreamed like many others of becoming an astronaut, and I kept that dream alive as an adult: it is still inside of me, strong and irresistible. So begins the story of Balwant Rai, one of the leading experts in dentistry aerospace.Debora Bellinzani


“When I was a child I dreamed like many others of becoming an astronaut, and I kept that dream alive as an adult: it is still inside of me, strong and irresistible. I found a way to live part of my dream conducting experiments in the field of travel spatial and visiting research stations, my job is to work on projects of associations and groups working in the field, thanks to which I have the opportunity to conduct experiments in microgravity or in a simulated environment similar to Mars. ” At the beginning of my career, says Balwant Rai, one of the leading experts in dentistry aeronautics and space “when I lived in India, I have seen many patients die from oral cancer. I chose to study dentistry to learn how to treat these people, especially those who can not afford the cost of care. My degree, however, has led me to the idea of being able to combine into a single profession my two areas of interest. From there I started to create what for me is more than a new industry related to dental care on the one hand and on the other to space travel. dentistry gave me a clear idea of the changes that occur in the oral cavity in hostile environments and my specialization in emergency interventions me given a direction in which unexplored analyze changes, namely the condition of weightlessness. ”

The effects of microgravity on oral health

The concern for the health of astronauts during missions led medicine in space, and that’s also the dentistry has come to experience zero gravity. One of the leading experts in this young discipline is Balwant Rai, a dentist who gave birth to the first college course in Dentistry aerospace industry in 2006 and has conducted several experiments in microgravity conditions.

‘s one of the most qualified people to ask if oral health of the astronauts in danger and if it is also the people who travel frequently by plane. His studies mainly focused on the effects of microgravity re taking volunteers for weeks on a bed tilted slightly so that the head is located lower than the foot, made it possible to understand what is happening in the tissues of the oral cavity in changing conditions of gravity and, simultaneously, to deepen their knowledge about the physiological processes in normal conditions.

Astronauts and caries
“The prevalence of caries increases in microgravity” ensures Balwant Rai . His experiments in fact clearly indicate that the enamel of the astronauts is more at risk than those who work on Earth. Why?
“In the absence of gravity changes occur in the amount of saliva that protects the dental tissues, in particular the mandibular teeth, thanks to the force of gravity pushing saliva down generally enjoy greater protection, change their state and become more susceptible to the development of caries lesions.

Total production of saliva, furthermore, is reduced compared to terrestrial conditions because the activity of the muscles submandibular decreases while, at the same time, also the composition of the saliva is modified by presenting a minor amount of protective substances antioxidants.

Finally, there is one more reason why the astronauts are more at risk than the development of caries increases the virulence of pathogens in the absence of gravity. Taken together, these changes compared to terrestrial conditions, combined with a general decrease the immune system, causes the enamel is more exposed to the risk of tooth decay. ”

The periodontal and bone tissues
The increase in virulence of pathogens and lowered immunity due to an increase in the levels of free radicals, which have a negative effect on the tissues of the periodontium which leads to a higher prevalence of periodontal disease in astronauts .

But the absence of gravity also affects bone remodeling. “The processes that take place in space depart from changes in physiological processes and elements that make up the structures of the body. Experiments show a 20% decrease of osteoblastic markers such as alkaline phosphatase, osteocalcin and procollagen three months from ‘alteration of the conditions of gravity, and on the other hand increased levels of markers of osteoclast activity as cathepsin and metalloproteinase 8 and 9. Consequently, there is a loss of balance in the process of bone remodeling, resulting in less bone formation and increased resorption.

Taken together, these changes leads to the risk of periodontal disease in those who spend time in microgravity. ”

There is danger on airplanes? There are people who will “rise from the ground” as frequently as pilots, flight crews and those who travel frequently for work, we asked if his Balwant Rai experiments have shown some risk for frequent flyers.

“From my preliminary data shows that there are no significant changes in the physiological processes of those who travel frequently by airplane. formation of free radicals, which in effect is altered, showing an increase of insignificant which may be due to radiation or even stress. addition to this new address of his studies, Balwant Rai is focusing his research as “non-invasive diagnostic technology through the study of salivary biomarkers for the detection-tion of tumors, Alzheimer’s disease and other illnesses. This is the way I chose to make my work takes two passions together, dental and travel man in space. “