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New Research Maps Out Tooth Enamel at Atomic Level

children’s dentist in Coos Bay

As a children’s dentist in Coos Bay, Dr. Lori Lemire was dismayed by the statistic that one out of every two children in Australia suffer from tooth decay in their permanent teeth by the age of 12, according to a new study. Now researchers from the University of Sydney believe they have successfully identified some nanoscale elements that dictate how our teeth behave.

Working alongside structural engineers, bioengineers and dentists, researchers were able to successfully map the exact composition and structure of tooth enamel at the atomic scale.

Using a revolutionary new microscopy technique known as atom probe tomography, researchers were able to create the first-ever three-dimensional maps showing the positions of atoms vital to the decay process.

The knowledge gained about atom composition at the nanolevel offers the potential to aid oral health hygiene and tooth decay prevention. The results of this latest study were published in the journal Science Advances.

Mapping the Mouth

Researchers involved in the study stated what has long been known by dental professionals; certain trace ions are important in the durable structure of tooth enamel. However, until now, it has proven impossible to map the ions in intricate detail.

The structure of tooth enamel is incredibly complex, and while researchers have understood that the composition of enamel allows fluoride, carbonate and magnesium ions to influence the properties of tooth enamel, researchers have never been successful at capturing the structure of enamel at a high enough definition to completely map its makeup.

What researchers have now found are magnesium-rich regions between the hydroxyapatite nanorods that comprise tooth enamel. This understanding provides researchers with the first direct evidence of the existence of a theorized amorphous magnesium-rich calcium phosphate phase that plays an essential role in dictating the properties of our teeth, reported the results of the study.

Researchers also reported finally being able to identify nanoscale “clumps” of organic material, which suggests the peptides and proteins are heterogeneously distributed within the structure of tooth enamel rather than always present as part of the nanorod interface, as was previously believed to be the case.

What all this means for the average individual, however, is the potential for new treatments designed around protecting enamel from breaking down from harmful oral bacteria.

Threats to Your Oral Health

Plaque – a sticky biofilm – clings to the surface of our teeth where it uses the foods we consume to produce substances that slowly erode tooth enamel. Over time, these plaque attacks can cause small cracks to develop in the surface of our teeth. These cracks allow bacteria to enter into the delicate interior known as the dentin. When oral bacteria dissolve away the foundation of our teeth, cavities and tooth loss can occur.

This latest study offers the potential for researchers to create technologies and treatments that could provide additional protection to the health of our teeth and gums.  As a children’s dentist in Coos Bay, Dr. Lori Lemire remains hopeful that, in the not too distant future, this type of breakthrough can not only improve the oral health of kids, but adults as well.

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