Tiny little diamonds – so tiny that they can’t be seen by the human eye – can be used to stimulate jawbone growth, treat oral diseases, and improve dental implants, according to new research by the UCLA School of Dentistry.
The research team used Nanodiamonds, which are byproducts of mining and refining operations. Nanodiamods are about 20,000 times smaller than a strand of hair, under a microscope they look like soccer balls. Their distinct surface properties help deliver bone growth-promoting proteins and antibiotics directly to teeth and gums. The UCLA team was especially excited about nanodiamond use with root canals.
Each year, more than 15 million root canal procedures are performed in the United States. The goal of a root canal is to remove infected dental “pulp” – the material inside teeth including nerve tissue and blood vessels – in order to save the tooth. The empty space that remains after the pulp is removed is filled with an inert polymer material called “Gutta Percha,” a sap derived from a species of Gum trees.
Malaysians have been using Gutta Percha medicinally for centuries, in everything from making splints to filling cavities. Elsewhere, dentists in search of the best dental filler material experimented with “Amalgam, Asbestos, Balsam, Bamboo, Cement, Copper, Gold Foil, Iron, Lead, OxyChloride of Zinc, Paraffin, Pastes, Plaster of Paris, Resin, Rubber, Tin foil, etc.” to seal cavities and root canals according to a paper tracing the history of Gutta Percha in dentistry,
Gutta Percha is used globally for root canals and other dental purposes now, as it doesn’t cause allergic reactions in virtually anyone (only people with especially severe latex allergies may react to Gutta Percha). But it’s been proven less than perfect in helping to prevent infections, and doesn’t provide quite enough strength to secure teeth that have had extensive root canal work.
To overcome those issues, the UCLA team developed and tested two types of reinforced Gutta Percha: One strengthened with nanodiamonds and another strengthened with antibiotic-fortified nanodiamonds. Both materials worked, well, with the amoxicillin-reinforced nanodiamond Gutta Percha mixture proving itself effective in preventing bacteria growth. End result: stronger, more infection resistant teeth.
The study involved UCLA researchers with expertise in a wide range of disciplines — materials science, nanotechnology, drug delivery, toxicology, oral radiology, endodontics, microbiology and other fields.
“Through their ingenuity and collaboration, the team is poised to transform the way that dentistry is practiced,” said Dr. No-Hee Park, dean of UCLA Dentistry.
During the next two years, the team plans to develop the perfect formulation of nanodiamond-reinforced Gutta Percha and begin clinical trials at UCLA.
Nanodiamonds also appear to be an ideal way to treat bone loss in the jaw, which can occur next to dental implants. The bone loss leads to the implants becoming loose — or failing. Dentists and oral surgeons can use bone grafts and medication to rebuild bone, enabling patients jaws to successfully support implants or dentures.
The UCLA team discovered that using nanodiamonds to deliver bone-growth proteins has the potential to be more effective than the conventional approaches. The unique surface of the diamonds allows the proteins to be delivered more slowly, which may allow the affected area to be treated for a longer period of time. Furthermore, the nanodiamonds can be administered non-invasively, via injection or an oral rinse, instead of surgery.