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Material could lead to self-healing cavities

CHICAGO, August 26 Someday you may want to send a thank-you card to Joe Antonucci. He just might turn out to be responsible for reducing your number of visits to the dentist.

Dr. Antonucci, a polymer chemist with the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Md., and Dr. Drago Skrtic, a physical chemist with the American Dental Association Health Foundation, Paffenbarger Research Center, located on the NIST campus, are working on a dental composite that can actually cause teeth to repair their own small cavities. Antonucci reported on their research today at the 222nd national meeting of the American Chemical Society, the worlds largest scientific society.

"Weve tested it [in vitro] as a remineralizing sealant for artificially induced caries in bovine enamel and weve been able to see the growth of new mineral," Antonucci said in a telephone interview. Demineralization of teeth is what leads to cavities (caries). The composite materials he is working with contain amorphous calcium phosphate, or ACP for short, as a bioactive filler.

ACP releases calcium and phosphate ions, which "in the right proportions, can form the natural mineral [hydroxyapatite] that is found in teeth and bones."

While researchers have known for several years about ACPs restorative powers, the NIST/ADA research group is unique in trying to put the material into a bioactive and photocurable polymer composite that could have multiple dental applications. The polymer in the composites can be designed to be biostable or biodegradable, depending on the intended application.

"We are designing a specific material right now, which the American Dental Association believes can be used as an orthodontic adhesive," said Antonucci. "One of the problems with using orthodontics in childrens mouths is that where theyre attached to teeth by braces, there tends to be demineralization around that tooth. Using this kind of adhesive material that has the
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