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Let the crystals grow: scientists of Queen Mary University in London develop a material that could regenerate dental enamel

Enamel does not only protect the teeth, but also gives the person a healthy look. Source: Liz20151222 / Wikimedia Commons

Researchers find a new way to create mineralized materials similar to hard tissues on our teeth

Enamel, located on the outer part of our teeth, is the hardest tissue in the body and enables our teeth to function for a large part of our lifetime despite biting forces, exposure to acidic foods and drinks. This remarkable performance results from its highly organized structure.

However, unlike other tissues of the body, enamel cannot regenerate once it is lost, which can lead to pain and tooth loss. So finding ways to recreate enamel has long been a major need in dentistry.

The study by scientists of Queen Mary University in London, published in Nature Communications, shows that a new approach can create materials with remarkable precision and order that look and behave like dental enamel.

Close-up of the enamel-like material. Source: Alvaro Mata

The mechanism that has been developed is based on a specific protein material that is able to trigger and guide the growth of apatite nanocrystals at multiple scales – similarly to how these crystals grow when dental enamel develops in our body.

Close-up of the enamel-like material. Source: Alvaro Mata

This structural organization is critical for the outstanding physical properties exhibited by natural dental enamel.

Lead author of the study, Professor Alvaro Mata from Queen Mary’s School of Engineering and Materials Science, 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 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.“

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

Dr. Sherif Elsharkawy, a dentist and first author of the study from Queen Mary’s School of Engineering and Materials Science, said: „This is exciting because the simplicity and versatility of the mineralization platform open up opportunities to treat and regenerate dental tissues. 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 research was funded by the European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant (STROFUNSCAFF) and the Marie Curie Integration Grant (BIOMORPH).

Queen Mary University, London

(18.05.2018, USA: 05.18.2018)