Thanks to a team of University of Washington researchers, you may soon be able to buy a lozenge that whitens your teeth while also rebuilding your tooth enamel.
The researchers are getting ready to start clinical trials on a lozenge that contains a genetically modified peptide, or chain of amino acids, as well as phosphate and calcium ions, which are important building elements of dental enamel.
Amelogenin, a critical protein in the production of dental enamel, the crown of the tooth, is the source of the peptide. It’s also necessary for the development of cementum, which coats the outside of the tooth root.
The peptide in each lozenge is tailored to bind to broken enamel and repair it without damaging the mouth’s soft tissue, resulting in several micrometers of new enamel on the teeth. Dentin, the living tissue under the tooth’s surface, is similarly integrated with the new layer. Two lozenges a day can help to rebuild enamel, while one a day can help to keep the layer healthy.
The lozenge, which can be taken like a mint, should be safe to use by both adults and children.
According to Professor Mehmet Sarikaya, the team leader, the researchers have begun discussing commercial possibilities with potential corporate partners. He is an adjunct professor in the Department of Oral Health Sciences and a professor in the Department of Materials Research Science and Engineering. Dr. Sami Dogan of the School of Dentistry’s Department of Restorative Dentistry faculty also plays an important role.
The lozenge creates new enamel that is whiter than what can be achieved with tooth-whitening strips or gels. It also has the following particular advantage: Traditional whitening treatments employ hydrogen peroxide, a bleaching substance that, over time, can erode tooth enamel.
Because dental enamel does not renew on its own, the underlying dentin can become exposed, causing hypersensitivity, cavities, and even gum disease. On the other hand, the lozenge helps to strengthen, restore, and guard teeth.
Fluoride strengthens tooth enamel but does not actively renew it. It also dissolves quickly, and its overall effectiveness is primarily dependent on good oral hygiene. At the same time, according to Dr. Dogan, the lozenge can be taken in conjunction with fluoride. He said that the fluoride content can be very low – roughly 20% of what is found in most fluoride toothpastes.
“We have three objectives in the clinical trial,” Professor Sarikaya noted. “First, demonstrate efficacy. Second, documentation. Third, benchmarking – seeing how the whitening effect compares to existing commercial treatments.” The researchers have already tested the lozenge on extracted teeth from humans, pigs, and rats, and also on live rats.
The team also intends to develop related products for use in dental offices, with trials expected to begin in March or April, Dr. Dogan added. “Each study will take two weeks, and we expect these trials to take no more than three months,” he said. The team is also working on an over-the-counter toothpaste, but no date has been set for its release.
Furthermore, the researchers are looking into developing a gel or solution containing the engineered peptide to treat hypersensitive teeth. This issue is caused by enamel weakness, which exposes the underlying dentin and nerves to heat and cold.
Most common products on the market today can apply an organic layer to the tooth and use potassium nitrate to numb nerve endings, but the relief is only temporary. The peptide, on the other hand, addresses the problem permanently at its source by strengthening the enamel.
Deniz Yucesoy, a graduate student in the University of Washington’s Genetically Engineered Materials Science and Engineering Center, came up with the idea for the lozenge design after receiving a $100,000 Amazon Catalyst grant through CoMotion, the university’s commercialization center, to fund the initial project. Hanson Fong, a research scientist in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, also made significant contributions.