Tooth decay is the most common chronic illness in the world. University of Southern California has been researching the topic heavily, and have come up with a new invention that is based on two recent findings in the world of oral medicine. This new invention is a miracle cure, which not only regenerates dead tissue, but also minimizes pain associated with tooth decay.
Regenerating tooth enamel
The topic of tooth enamel and its revitalization has been the resort of Professor Janet Moradian-Oldak for the past two decades. Unlike bone and numerous other hard tissues in the body, tooth enamel is incapable of regenerating itself, and cannot reproduce itself, making research into the matter very difficult.
Forget 007, here is MMP-20
On October 22nd, 2015, in the periodical Biomaterials, the professor and her colleagues published a study that seems to suggest that their research has finally given fruit. The researchers found that an enzyme called metalloproteinase-20 (or MMP-20 for short) is the one that chops up a protein called amelogenin, which is one of the main proteins responsible for maintaining the tooth enamel matrix, and has a very important role in crystallization of tooth enamel. This was the first time, by the way, that researchers were able to clearly define the function of an enzyme that is capable of stopping protein occlusion inside a crystalline structure.
The MMP-20 enzyme chops up proteins during crystallisation, and starts to be produced in massive quantities at the early stages of enamel production. Because MMP-20, together with other enzymes, is responsible for “taking out the trash”, the cells that are responsible for building up the hardest bio ceramic in the world- namely, human tooth enamel- can do their jobs, and produce the minerals necessary for healthy enamel growth.
Earlier in the year, the Journal of Biomedical Engineering had released a study on this topic, and this study was the one that Professor Moradian-Oldak used as a comparison to her own research. This study, by Qichao Ruan and his team had proposed that the effects of tooth decay can be reversed with amelogenin chitosan in a hydrogel. The material makes artificial enamel that coats the area it is placed on, and can regenerate up to 70% of the affected tissue.
Qichao Ruan had this to say on the topic: “Is natural enamel generation possible? It is certain that this discovery, that is, the discovery of the bio mineralization properties of MMP-20 is a very important first step in answering this question. Not only does this enzyme help us understand the mechanics of tooth enamel generation, but can be the basis for developing new biomaterials, which may be able to help us regenerate dead teeth in the future.”
The product of the future
Mass producing a hydrogel has not been approved by the FDA yet, but the University of Southern California is already engaged in pre-clinical trials. According to professor Moradian-Oldak, patches and tooth guards with the miracle gel inside of them that can be worn at night are just around the corner, and that these devices could stop tooth sensitivity. But the gel also has applications in at home oral care, too, and applications for tooth replacement. The material has been tested in an environment that had similar biochemical properties to the human oral cavity, and it produced a very strong adhesion, indicating that it could stop secondary decay in the area where it is used. The gel would be a better solution that using crowns, because the adhesion is usually the first to go when using this kind of dental prosthesis, and the bacteria that get under the crown in this way are a frequent source of problems.