Scientists Develop Material to Regenerate Tooth Enamel

Close-up of enamel-like material that could be used to regenerate to the surface of our teeth. (Alvaro Mata)

(CN) – Potentially resolving a longstanding issue in dentistry, researchers reported Friday they have developed a new way to grow mineralized materials capable of regenerating hard tissues, including dental enamel and bone.

Located on the outer part of our teeth, enamel is the hardest tissue in the body and allows our teeth to function for a considerable portion of our lifetime by withstanding biting forces, exposure to acidic foods and drinks and extreme temperatures. Enamel’s impressive performance results from its highly organized structure.

Enamel is also the only tissue in the body that does not regenerate. This can lead to pain and tooth loss, which affect more than 50 percent of the world’s population.

The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, shows the team’s new approach can create materials with considerable precision and order to look and behave like enamel.

The materials could be used to treat a wide range of dental issues, including the prevention and treatment of tooth decay or the condition known as dentin hypersensitivity.

“This is exciting because the simplicity and versatility of the mineralization platform open up opportunities to treat and regenerate dental tissues,” said first author Sherif Elsharkawy, a dentist at Queen Mary University of London in the United Kingdom.

“For example, we could develop acid-resistant bandages that can infiltrate, mineralize, and shield exposed dentinal tubules of human teeth for the treatment of dentin hypersensitivity.”

The team’s mechanism is based on a specific protein material that can trigger and guide the growth of apatite nanocrystals at various scales – similar to how these crystals grow when enamel develops in the body. This structural organization is vital to understanding the physical properties displayed by natural enamel.

“A major goal in materials science is to learn from nature to develop useful materials based on the precise control of molecular building blocks,” said lead author Alvaro Mata, a professor at Queen Mary’s School of Engineering and Materials Science. “The key discovery has been the possibility to exploit disordered proteins to control and guide the process of mineralization at multiple scales.

“Through this, we have developed a technique to easily grow synthetic materials that emulate such hierarchically organized architecture over large areas and with the capacity to tune their properties.”

Controlling the mineralization process opens the door to creating materials with properties that mimic other hard tissues, such as bone and dentin. As such, the findings have the potential to be applied to a variety of applications in regenerative medicine.

The report also offers insights into the role of protein disorder in human pathology and physiology.

The research was funded by the European Research Council’s Starting Grant and the Marie Curie Integration Grant.

Similarity of structure between the enamel-like material and dental enamel. (Alvaro Mata)
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