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Research into degradable particles to reduce tooth decay wins award

Researchers at Queen Mary, University of London have received the materials science Venture Prize for developing a new degradable particle which could bring toothache relief to millions.

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L to R: Professor Robert Hill, Pushkar Wadke, Dr David Gillam and Dr Natalia Karpukhina, by the solid state NMR spectrometer
L to R: Professor Robert Hill, Pushkar Wadke, Dr David Gillam and Dr Natalia Karpukhina, by the solid state NMR spectrometer

The degradable particles are about the same size as small holes in teeth. They are designed to enter such holes and physically block and repair decayed teeth.

The particles are special glasses that are designed for incorporating 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.

The development 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. 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, affecting 35 per cent of the world’s population.

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

Professor Hill, head of dental physical sciences at the Institute of Dentistry, part of Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary, said: “These new particles dissolve faster than existing ones and are also softer than tooth enamel.

“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.

Professor Hill said: “This award will enable us to get our research from the laboratory into a prototype toothpaste.

“The difficult step is getting money to enable the translation of research in the laboratory into commercial products.”

The winning team is made up of Professor Hill along with Dr David Gillam, clinical lecturer and dentist, Dr Natalia Karpukhina an expert on bioactive glasses and Dr Pushkar Wadke from Queen Mary Innovation.

Professor Bill Bonfield, chairman of the Armourers & Brasiers Venture Prize judging panel, said: “This is a hugely exciting development which could benefit millions of people not only throughout the UK and Europe but right across the world.”

“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.” 

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