Nanotechnology – Coming Soon to a Dentist Near You?
It looks like the “new world of innovation” that has been anticipated by nanotechnology enthusiasts since the discovery and popularization of the famous, soccer-ball look-a-like Buckminsterfullerene molecule in the late 1980s is starting to go mainstream.
In all fairness, nanotech has been around in devices like the scanning tunneling microscope, atomic force microscope and advanced microprocessors; but only in the mid-2000s has this nanometer-realm technology found its way into everyday products like washing machines (nanoparticles lining washers can kill bacteria in clothing better than the hottest water), medical instruments and air filters.
This Tuesday, a team of bioengineers at the University of Maryland, led by Professor Huakun Xu announced that they had successfully tested an alternative to conventional mercury cavity filling, comprised of silver nanoparticles, which not only kill unwanted microbes, but also regenerate tooth enamel. The entire materials science of nanomaterials is a still-growing field, because otherwise normal materials like silver often have fantastic physical and electrical properties when you shave them down to the nanometer scale, and quantum effects become immediately relevant. Basically, a chunk of silver acts nothing like a nanoparticle of silver – and this goes for any other nanomaterial.
The silver nanoparticles kill the bacteria by getting down to their level and attaching to their cell walls like a key with a perfect fit. This physical breach allows external matter to get inside, which disrupts the internal functions of the cell, eventually killing the bacterium. It's worth a mention that nanosilver can't do this to human cells!
Just how important is this discovery for future tooth restorations? Considering that the primary cause of post-filling tooth failure is the harmful bacteria that remain after the dentist has extracted the useless remains of the tooth, if the nanosilver-laced tooth-filling adhesive and primer invented by Professor Xu and team is attractive enough to garner financial support for further development and testing and subsequently pass Food and Drug Administration requirements, there’s little reason why it won’t come to dominate the dental restoration scene eventually.