Researchers have developed new degradable particles, about the same size as small holes in teeth, which are designed to enter these holes and physically block and repair decayed teeth.

These particles are special glasses and can be incorporated into toothpaste and will dissolve in the mouth releasing calcium and phosphate that form tooth mineral. This reduces tooth pain, cuts back on the incidences of tooth decay and repairs teeth.

This could bring relief to the estimated 20 million adults in UK (40 per cent of the UK adult population) who are prone to tooth sensitivity. Indeed, untreated tooth decay or cavities in permanent teeth is the most common of all 291 major diseases and injuries assessed in the latest Global Burden of Diseases study. It affects 35 per cent of the world’s population.

The team behind this development, led by Professor Robert Hill from Queen Mary, University of London have won the £25,000 materials science Venture Prize, awarded by the Worshipful Company of Armourers and Brasiers.

“These new particles dissolve faster than existing ones and are also softer than tooth enamel,” said Professor Hill. “They have a more expanded open structure and this allows water to go into the glass structure faster and the calcium and phosphate ions to come out faster. Also, while existing particles are significantly harder and abrade away the enamel during brushing, our new particles will be softer.”

Tooth pain is associated with hot, cold or mechanical stimulation and is caused by fluid flow within small tubes located within the tooth. These tubes can become exposed as a result of the gums receding, hence the expression “long in the tooth” or through the loss of the outer enamel coating as a result of tooth decay, acid erosion or mechanical wear associated with tooth brushing. These new bioactive particles can also re-mineralise the holes via the release of calcium and phosphate ions.

“This is a hugely exciting development which could benefit millions of people not only throughout the UK and Europe but right across the world,” said Professor Bill Bonfield, chairman of the Armourers & Brasiers Venture Prize judging panel. “It meets our aim to encourage innovative scientific entrepreneurship in the UK and provide funding, which is often difficult to source, to bring new materials science research like this to market.” 

In addition to Professor Hill, who is head of dental physical sciences at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary. The team comprises: Dr David Gillam clinical lecturer and dentist, Dr Natalia Karpukhina an expert on bioactive glasses and Dr Pushkar Wadke from Queen Mary Innovations.

“This award will enable us to get our research from the laboratory into a prototype toothpaste, said Professor Hill. “The difficult step is getting money to enable the translation of research in the laboratory into commercial products. This is what the Venture Prize Award will enable us to do.”

This development has come at an appropriate time. The latest Global Industry Analysts report outlined that the total world market for toothpaste is forecast to reach US$12.6 billion (£8.1billion) by the year 2015. This increase it outlines will be led by product innovations, rising population levels and greater awareness about oral hygiene.

This story is reprinted from material from Peter Scaramanga and University of London, with editorial changes made by Materials Today. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of Elsevier.