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Researchers develop material that could emulate dental enamel

A close-up image of the enamel-like material. (Photograph: Alvaro Mata)

Thu. 7. June 2018


LONDON, UK: Unlike many other tissues in the human body, dental enamel does not regenerate itself once it is damaged. In what could potentially be a breakthrough for dentistry, researchers at Queen Mary University of London have developed a new method for growing mineralised materials that could regenerate dental enamel, bone and other hard tissue.

As the hardest tissue in the body, enamel allows our teeth to withstand exposure to acidic foods and drinks, extreme temperatures, and frequent biting forces. Unfortunately, enamel’s inability to renew can lead to tooth pain and tooth loss, conditions that affect a large proportion of the world’s population.

By focusing on a specific protein material that can trigger and guide the growth of apatite nanocrystals, the researchers found that the microscopic prisms created by the material possessed similar physical properties to dental enamel. These structures can be grown over large uneven surfaces and native tissue, opening opportunities for hard-tissue repair.

“This is exciting because the simplicity and versatility of the mineralisation platform opens up opportunities to treat and regenerate dental tissues,” said first author of the study Dr Sherif Elsharkawy, a dentist from Queen Mary’s School of Engineering and Materials Science.

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

The study’s lead researcher Prof. Alvaro Mata, from the same school, said: “A major goal in materials science is to learn from nature to develop useful materials based on the precise control of molecular building-blocks. The key discovery has been the possibility to exploit disordered proteins to control and guide the process of mineralisation at multiple scales. Through this, we have developed a technique to easily grow synthetic materials that emulate such hierarchically organised architecture over large areas and with the capacity to tune their properties.”

The study, titled “Protein disorder–order interplay to guide the growth of hierarchical mineralized structures”, was published online in Nature Communications on 1 June 2018.

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