Nanoparticles Destroy Dental Plaque, Prevent Tooth Decay

Combine a diet high in sugar with poor oral hygiene habits and dental cavities, or caries, will likely result. The sugar triggers the formation of an acidic biofilm, known as plaque, on the teeth, eroding the surface. Early childhood caries is a severe form of tooth decay that affects one in every four children in the United States and hundreds of millions more globally. It’s a particularly severe problem in underprivileged populations.

Treatment with a nanoparticle and hydrogen peroxide (right panel) left little in the way of bacteria (in blue) or the sticky biofilm matrix (in red), making the combination a potent force against dental plaque

In a study published in Nature Communications, researchers led by Hyun (Michel) Koo of the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine in collaboration with David Cormode of Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine and School of Engineering and Applied Science used FDA-approved nanoparticles to effectively disrupt biofilms and prevent tooth decay in both an experimental human-plaque-like biofilm and in an animal model that mimics early-childhood caries. The nanoparticles break apart dental plaque through a unique pH-activated antibiofilm mechanism.

It displays an intriguing enzyme-like property whereby the catalytic activity is dramatically enhanced at acidic pH but is ‘switched off’ at neutral pH conditions,” says Koo, professor in Penn Dental Medicine’s Department of Orthodontics. “The nanoparticles act as a peroxidase, activating hydrogen peroxide, a commonly used antiseptic, to generate free radicals that potently dismantle and kill biofilms in pathological acidic conditions but not at physiological pH, thus providing a targeted effect.”

Because the caries-causing plaque is highly acidic, the new therapy is able to precisely target areas of the teeth harboring pathogenic biofilms without harming the surrounding oral tissues or microbiota. The particular iron-containing nanoparticle used in the experiments, ferumoxytol, is already FDA-approved to treat iron-deficiency, a promising indication that a topical application of the same nanoparticle, used at several-hundred-fold lower concentration, would also be safe for human use.