Nanoparticles break up plaque and prevent cavities

Copyright: ambelrip / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: ambelrip / 123RF Stock Photo

The bacteria that live in dental plaque and contribute to tooth decay often resist traditional antimicrobial treatment, as they can ‘hide’ within a sticky biofilm matrix, a glue-like polymer scaffold.

A new strategy conceived by University of Pennsylvania researchers took a more sophisticated approach. Instead of simply applying an antibiotic to the teeth, they took advantage of the pH-sensitive and enzyme-like properties of iron-containing nanoparticles to catalyse the activity of hydrogen peroxide, a commonly used natural antiseptic.

The activated hydrogen peroxide produced free radicals that were able to simultaneously degrade the biofilm matrix and kill the bacteria within, significantly reducing plaque and preventing cavities.

“Even using a very low concentration of hydrogen peroxide, the process was incredibly effective at disrupting the biofilm,” said Hyun (Michel) Koo, a professor in the Penn School of Dental Medicine and the senior author of the study, which was published in the journal Biomaterials.

“Adding nanoparticles increased the efficiency of bacterial killing more than 5,000-fold.”

The researchers applied the nanoparticles and hydrogen peroxide topically to the teeth of rats, which can develop tooth decay when infected with Streptococcus mutans just as humans do. Twice a day, one-minute treatments for three weeks significantly reduced the onset and severity of tooth decay, compared to the control or treatment with hydrogen peroxide alone. The researchers observed no adverse effects on the gum or oral soft tissues from the treatment.

“It’s very promising,” said Professor Koo. “The efficacy and toxicity need to be validated in clinical studies, but I think the potential is there.”

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