Scientists have finally worked out how to make artificial enamel for teeth which they hope could be a game changer in the battle against tooth decay.
Natural tooth enamel – the thin outer layer of our teeth – is the hardest biological material in the human body.
It is renowned for its hardness, strength, and toughness, which make it exceptionally resistant to damage despite being only millimetres thick.
However, it can degenerate over decades and when it does tooth decay can set in.
Despite many attempts, scientists have failed to replicate the properties of this wonder material – until now.
And although it is unclear exactly when this new material may become available at the dentists, the researchers are confident it is only a matter of time.
“This method of making artificial enamel lends itself to commercial production and it can be produced for the manufacture of artificial teeth,” Nicholas A. Kotov, of the University of Michigan, told i.
“I would not like to make any predictions about the timing of its actual implementation in patients, but I do know that all the components are biocompatible and can be expected to perform well in both animal and human trials.”
As well as potentially improving the construction of artificial teeth, researchers hope the material can be used to significantly reduce tooth decay and the need for fillings – although they are unlikely to eliminate either entirely.
“Our mouth is such as complex and corrosive environment that I would not expect the elimination of tooth decay. However, better fillings that can last longer – yes,” he said.
The new enamel could also have other uses, Dr Kotov added.
“Other biomedical applications include bone implants and structural support for implantable electronics and long-term implanted biosensors,” he said.
Implantable electronic systems are valuable instruments that can be used for monitoring and diagnosis and include pacemakers and blood pressure monitors.
Meanwhile, implantable biosensors continuously monitor the concentrations of “biomarkers” for potential problems – such as monitoring glucose levels in diabetics.
The artificial tooth enamel was produced by freezing hydroxyapatite, a naturally occurring mineral form of calcium apatite, which can be found in some toothpastes in the form of nanocrystals, so they can dissolve easily – in the presence of polyvinyl alcohol, a white, water-soluble form of alcohol used to make glue.
The discovery is detailed in the journal Science.