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Nanotech Composites Aid Tooth Cavity Repair

Dental visit (


Researchers at the University of Maryland dental school have developed cavity-filling composites based on nanotechnology that kill bacteria and regenerate the tooth structure. The university has filed patents and is seeking licensees to commercialize the technology.

The work of Maryland dental school professor Huakun (Hockin) Xu aims to improve on the standard dental fillings that limit the damage of tooth cavities from decay. After a dentist drills out a decayed tooth today, Xu notes, the cavity still contains residual bacteria, thus the importance of neutralizing the harmful effects of the bacteria that remain.

Xu, who directs the school’s Division of Biomaterials and Tissue Engineering, says “the mineral content in the tooth has been dissolved by the organic acids secreted by bacteria residing in biofilms or plaques on the tooth surface,” adding, “These organisms convert carbohydrates to acids that decrease the minerals in the tooth structure.”

Xu and colleagues developed a new composite material for filling cavities with an antibacterial primer and antibacterial adhesive. The material includes calcium phosphate nanoparticles that regenerate tooth minerals. The composite also has an antibacterial component with a base of quaternary ammonium and silver nanoparticles along with a high alkaline pH to limit acid production by tooth bacteria.

Fillings with the nanocomposite material are expected to last longer than the five to 10 years of today’s fillings. The main reason for failures in tooth restorations, Xu notes, is secondary caries or decay at the restoration margins. “The reason we want to get the antibacterial agents also into primers and adhesives,” says Xu, “is that these are the first things that cover the internal surfaces of the tooth cavity and flow into tiny dental tubules inside the tooth.”

The University of Maryland has patents pending on the nanocomposite and the primer and adhesive technologies, according to the university’s technology transfer office, with licensing opportunities available. The new products have been tested in the lab on biofilms from saliva of volunteers. The Maryland team is planning to next test its products in animal teeth and in human volunteers in collaboration with the Federal University of Ceara in Brazil.

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