Perhaps the most ubiquitous ailment associated with the mouth is tooth decay. Also known as dental caries or cavities, this condition can destroy teeth and make eating extremely uncomfortable. Tooth decay can be induced by certain medical conditions or by poor oral hygiene which leads to a buildup of acid around the teeth. Cariogenic (cavity causing) bacteria that subsist on the residue of dietary carbohydrates left in the mouth are a common source of acid. Due to the anaerobic nature of cariogenic bacteria, they rely on fermentation during their metabolic processes which creates lactic acid as a waste product. Acid can also be introduced to the dental environment via soda and citrus fruits (Abou et al. 2016) .
Acid is detrimental to the overall structure of the tooth as it can break down enamel and dentin in a process known as demineralization. The converse process of mineralization, works to lay down a network of inorganic calcium phosphate crystals onto an organic collagen scaffolding system that will ultimately produce a developed tooth (Abou et al. 2016). Through the action of demineralization, this calcium phosphate structure is eroded leaving behind soft organic tissue which is easily destroyed, resulting in a cavity. If left untreated cavities can result in serious medical complications.
The most common method of repairing dental caries involves removing the affected tissue and applying a filling to the site. Unfortunately, this procedure can be costly and requires access to advanced medical technology and trained specialists. Much of the world suffers from tooth decay, but the number of people with access to the resources needed to combat it is disproportionately low (Holtz J. 2018). In disadvantaged socioeconomic communities’ opportunities for treatment are rare.
Researchers at the University of Washington are pioneering a new method to fight tooth decay without the need of high priced equipment in the hopes of making dental care more universally available. The revolutionary biogenic treatment will be available over the counter and uses polypeptides to mediate the restructuring of tooth enamel. Using Amelogenin, a key protein in tooth crown development, scientists at UW have developed a derived peptide that acts as a liaison between the calcium phosphate building blocks and damaged teeth (Dogan et al. 2018). The study demonstrated the effects of six treatment groups on enamel lesions in vitro. Of the groups tested, only the samples containing the modified Amelogenin peptide resulted in complete integration of minerals into the molecular structure of the effected tooth. The experimental peptide produced a 10-50 micrometer deposit of crystallized calcium phosphate which was analogous to natural healthy enamel. Other test groups in the study were representative of classical fluoride treatments such as clinical varnish, mouth wash and toothpaste. All alternative groups failed to fully integrate new minerals into the enamel or otherwise heal the lesions (Dogan et al. 2018). The data collected from this study is encouraging but further testing is required in vivo before the product can be fully implemented. It is also worth noting that at the moment the treatment is only proven to repair tooth enamel. It will be most effectively utilized as an advanced preventative measure rather than an overall cure for tooth decay.
Dogan S, Fong H, Sarikaya M, Yucesoy DT. 2018. Biomimetic Tooth Repair: Amelogenin-Derived Peptide Enables in Vitro Remineralization of Human Enamel. ACS Biomaterials Science & Engineering. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acsbiomaterials.7b00959Accessed April 2018.
Abou Neel E.A., Aljabo A., Strange A., Ibrahim S., Coathup M., Young A.M., Bozec L., Mudera V. Demineralization-remineralization dynamics in teeth and bone. Int. J. Nanomed. 2016; 19 (11):4743–4763. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
Holtz J. 2018. Peptide-based biogenic dental product may cure cavities. http://www.washington.edu/news/2018/04/12/peptide-based-biogenic-dental-product-may-cure-cavities/. Accessed April 2018.