'Nanospheres' that block pain of sensitive teeth

September 01, 2005

Nanospheres could help dentists fill the tiny holes in our teeth that make them incredibly sensitive, and that cause severe pain for millions of adults and children worldwide.

Preliminary research presented today at the Institute of Physics conference EMAG-NANO 2005 shows that creating tiny spheres of a ceramic material called hydroxyapatite could be a long term solution or cure for sensitive teeth.

Sensitive teeth or 'dental hypersensitivity' is a condition that arises when the dentine of the tooth is exposed. The dentine is made up of thousands of tiny fluid-filled channels which radiate outwards from the nerve endings at the centre of the tooth. Heat, some chemicals, and physical contact can cause the fluid in these channels to move - in or out - triggering the nerve endings and causing sharp pain.

If these channels (or 'tubules') are fully or partially blocked, the flow can be reduced and the pain stopped or significantly reduced. Currently, the only way to treat this condition is through good dental hygiene - using special toothpastes and fluorine mouthwashes which encourage re-mineralization of the dentine coating.

Jonathan Earl, David Wood and Steve Milne from the Institute of Materials Research at the University of Leeds have found that the most successful particle shape for filling these channels is a 'nanosphere' and are now trying to synthesize nanospheres of hydroxyapatite. Hydroxyapatite is a ceramic material which is highly compatible with teeth and bone and so is widely used by medics for bone grafts or dental coatings (because it binds strongly with the bone material).

Earl and his colleagues grew hydroxyapatite at various pH levels to vary the size of the particles it is made up of. At normal pH, it is composed of long rod-like structures but at high pH levels the particles of hydroxyapatite become smaller and more rounded, better for fitting inside the tiny channels in teeth.

To see whether nanospheres would be successful at filling the channels they used commercially available silica nanospheres of around 40nm in diameter.

Earl said: "We found these tiny spheres are really good at filling the channels in teeth, packing inside them quite evenly and going down the holes to a good depth. They'd be the perfect shape of particle for filling these channels and reducing or preventing the pain caused by sensitive teeth".

The next stage of their research will be to work out how to synthesize nanospheres of hydroyapatite or a combination of hydroxyapatite and fluorine which would fill the holes and encourage re-mineralization at the same time and so be an incredibly powerful repair tool for dentists.
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For further information and interviews contact:
David Reid, senior press officer, Institute of Physics, Mobile: 07946 321473, E-mail: david.reid@iop.org. Please use mobile to request interviews or further information during this conference.

Notes for editors:

EMAG - NANO 05: Imaging, Analysis and Fabrication on the Nanoscale
The University of Leeds, 31 August - 2 September 2005

Journalists are welcome to attend part or all of the conference

The Institute of Physics is a leading international professional body and learned society with over 37,000 members, which promotes the advancement and dissemination of a knowledge of and education in the science of physics, pure and applied. It has a world-wide membership and is a major international player in: The Institute is a member of the Science Council, and a nominated body of the Engineering Council. The Institute works in collaboration with national physical societies and plays an important role in transnational societies such as the European Physical Society and represents British and Irish physicists in international organisations. In Great Britain and Ireland the Institute is active in providing support for physicists in all professions and careers, encouraging physics research and its applications, providing support for physics in schools, colleges and universities, influencing government and informing public debate.

IOP Publishing

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