According to the National Institutes of Health the most prevalent form of chronic disease is tooth decay. Janet Moradian-Oldak at USC has investigated methods to regrow tooth enamel which is a difficult undertaking as tooth enamel is not a living tissue. She collaborated with Sauma Prajapati and others to investigate matrix metalloproteinase-20, an enzyme found only in teeth which facilitate organized enamel crystal formation.
Her team is the first to define the function of an enzyme for preventing protein occlusion inside a crystal. MMP-20 is released at a very early stage of enamel formation. MMP-20 chops up proteins during the crystallization of enamel. Together with other enzymes, it gets rid of ‘sludge’ so the enamel making cells in the body can add more mineral and make enamel, the hardest bioceramic in the human body. The team also looked an amelogenin-chitosan hydrogel which could repair early tooth decay by growing an enamel-like layer that reduces lesions by up to 70%. The team feels that MMP-20 can help in understanding the mechanisms of enamel formation and help in dental restoration and repair.
The researchers feel that one day it may be possible for people to use an overnight mouth guard or teeth strips saturated with hydrogel to regrow enamel-like substances and reduce teeth sensitivity. Current products like toothpaste and mouthwash containing fluoride and casein phosphopeptide-amorphous calcium phosphate promote remineralization of initial enamel lesions but they aren’t a real solution. The gel developed fills cracks and holes with an enamel-like substance.
The researchers findings are important as it has been reported that 92% of adults ages 20 to 64 have dental decay in their permanent teeth. Grinding teeth at night, gum recession, and the disappearance of enamel over a lifetime are all common problems people encounter.
The researchers tested the gel in an environment that mimics the oral cavity’s biochemical processes. It created a robust attachment and could be more effective than traditional crowns whose adhesion weakens over time.
Source: Saumya Prajapati and et. al. Matrix metalloproteinase-20 mediates dental enamel biomineralization by preventing protein occlusion inside apatite crystals. Biomaterials. No. 75, Issue 260, 2016.