The mini marbles that can repair tooth decay and alleviate sensitive teeth

The mini marbles that can repair tooth decay and alleviate sensitive teeth

Tiny glass balls in toothpaste may halt decay and also help with sensitive teeth. The balls, which are no wider than a human hair, contain calcium and phosphate, crucial components of tooth enamel (the tough, protective outer layer of the tooth).
They have been developed to help repair teeth damaged by decay, but where the damage is not severe enough to warrant a filling.
As well as tackling decay, the glass balls may reduce the problem of sensitive teeth – where the tooth enamel is worn down, exposing the dentine, the softer layer underneath.

The balls, which have been created by a team of dentists and scientists from Queen Mary, University of London, are made from calcium phosphate glass.  Once the toothpaste containing them is brushed onto the teeth, the balls fill in areas of weakened or damaged enamel, or areas where the gum has started to come away from the tooth. The balls then start to dissolve in the moisture in the mouth, leaching out calcium and phosphate.  Early trials suggest that this forms a new surface on the teeth in less than three hours, with the balls dissolving completely in under eight hours.

There are already several toothpastes made with glass particles on the market. However the team behind the calcium phosphate balls claim these dissolve eight times faster and form enamel more quickly. They also say that the higher phosphate content means their glass balls repair teeth more effectively.  The team have previously worked on a type of glass that contained fluoride to help strengthen teeth, but wanted to find a more effective way of actually repairing enamel.

The glass is of a special biodegradable type, known as bioglass, that has the ability to retain the calcium and phosphate when in a toothpaste, but releases them when in contact with lots of moisture – such as saliva in the mouth.  The technology recently won the team a £25,000 prize from the Worshipful Company of Armourers and Brasiers for innovation. The hope is to launch the product in the next two years. Commenting on the technology, Hugh Devlin, professor of restorative dentistry at the University of Manchester, said: ‘Bioactive glass materials in toothpaste is a “hot” research area.   ‘The trick is getting a product that can be produced in bulk commercially, as they take a great deal of expertise to manufacture.’

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