UCSB Scientists Develop More Durable, Tougher Dental Restoration Composite

UCSB scientists have tapped into an unlikely source to help them develop a more durable dental restoration composite: Mussels.

Researchers studied the mechanisms mussels use to adhere to surfaces, and applied that science to a new type of dental composite that will provide an extra layer of durability to treated teeth.

The payoff?

Longer lasting fillings, crowns, implants, and other types of dental work.

Traditional Restorations Have a Short Life Span

“It’s as hard as a typical dental restoration but less likely to crack,” Kollbe Ahn, a materials scientist at UCSB’s Marine Science Institute, said of the composite.

On average, a dental restoration lasts between 5 and 10 years before needing replacement. The time frame depends on the type of restoration and how well the patient cares for the treated tooth. However, the continual onslaught of chewing, acidic and hard foods, poor hygiene, nighttime tooth grinding, generally weak teeth, and even inadequate dental work can contribute to a filling’s early failure — and another expensive visit to the dentist.

Mussels the Ideal Model

In an effort to combat these premature failures, the UCSB researchers looked to nature for help. Mussels to be exact. While studying the mussels’ art of adhering to irregular surfaces, the scientists found a way not only to maintain strength and hardness in dental composites but also to add durability.

Key to this adhesion is what the scientists call dynamic or sacrificial bonding — multiple reversible and weak bonds on the sub-nanoscopic molecular level that can dissipate energy without compromising the overall adhesion and mechanical properties of the load-bearing material.

This proof-of-concept could mean tougher, more durable dental fillings. And that, in the long run, could mean fewer dental visits.

The next step? Scientists say they will work to increase the material’s durability even further.

“By changing the molecular design you could have even denser coupling agents that exist on the surface, and then we can have a stronger and more durable dental composite,” said Ahn.

It’s estimated that a commercial product will be available within a couple of years.

Stay tuned…

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