New smart material to fight tooth decay

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fight tooth decay

A novel way to minimise recurrent carries has been developed by a Canadian team whose findings are published in Scientific Reports.

When patients go to the dentist to fill a cavity, they’re trying to solve a problem—not create a new one. But many dental patients get some bad news: bacteria can dig under their tooth-coloured fillings and cause new cavities, called recurrent caries.

Now, a research collaboration between three colleagues from the Department of Materials Science & Engineering, Faculty of Dentistry, and the Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Toronto has tackled the issue and proposed a novel solution: a filling material with tiny particles made by the self-assembly of antimicrobial drugs, designed to stop bacteria in its tracks.

These particles may solve one of the biggest problems with antibacterial filling materials: how to store enough drug within the material to be effective for someone’s entire life.

“Adding particles packed with antimicrobial drugs to a filling creates a line of defence against cavity-causing bacteria,” Professor Ben Hatton said.

“But traditionally there’s only been enough drug to last a few weeks. Through this research we discovered a combination of drugs and silica glass that organise themselves on a molecule-by-molecule basis to maximise drug density, with enough supply to last years.”

This discovery of using antimicrobials which self-assemble means it is possible to pack 50 times as much of the bacteria-fighting drugs into the particles.

“We know very well that bacteria specifically attack the margins between fillings and the remaining tooth to create cavities,” Professor Yoav Finer added. “Giving these materials an antimicrobial supply that will last for years could greatly reduce this problem.”

Looking ahead, the team plans on testing these new drug-storing particles in dental fillings—and monitoring their performance when attacked by bacteria and saliva in the complex environment in the mouth. With some fine-tuning, they believe this new ‘smart’ material could create a stronger filling and result in fewer trips to the dentist.

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