“When he first presented it to me, I was very skeptical,” Koo said, “because these free radicals can also damage healthy tissue. But then he refuted that and told me this is different because the nanoparticles activity is dependent on pH,” said Hyun (Michael) Koo.

Nanotechnology is an ever-emerging trend that we have seen grow in popularity over the years. Certainly not a new technology, but over the past 10 years, even 5 for that matter, I’d say has evolved into a here-to-stay tech.

With Cyborg heart patches, self-cleaning clothes and recently, nanotech has provided the ability to make the dirtiest of waters clean and safe for drinking.

Enter: catalytic nanoparticles, or dental biofilms for your teeth. Bacteria thrives in our mouth, creating dental plaque, tooth decay, bleeding gums and periodontal disease. A group of researchers at The University of Pensylvania have been working with nanotechnology to create a solution to prevent these common dental diseases.

Bacterias that live in plaque, most often contribute to tooth decay or gum disease do not respond to traditional antimicrobial treatments.  Usually hiding within a sticky biofilm matrix in our teeth, almost like a glue-like polymer scaffold says the researchers.

Thankfully, the researchers noticed that nanoparticles have an enzyme-like property that is pH sensitive when iron coated. This allows the nanoparticle to catalyze the activity of hydrogen peroxide, a common natural antiseptic.

The activated hydrogen peroxide produces free radicals that are able to simultaneously degrade the dental biofilm matrix and kill the bacteria within.  Thus, the catalytic nanoparticles greatly reduce plaque and prevent tooth decay and cavities in an animal model when tested.

“Even using a very low concentration of hydrogen peroxide, the process was incredibly effective at disrupting the biofilm,” said Koo, a professor at Penn State School of Dental Medicines Department of Orthodontics and divisions of Pediatric Dentistry and Community Oral Health and the senior author of the study which was published in the journal Biomaterials. “Adding nanoparticles increased the efficiency of bacteria killing more than 5,000-fold.”

The paper’s lead author was Lizeng Gao, a postdoctoral researcher, as well as David Cormode, an assistant professor of radiology and bioengineering. Others in Koo’s lab are, Yuan Liu and Geelsu Hwang.

This promising new treatment is relatively inexpensive, “it’s very promising,” said Koo.

“If you look at the amount you would need for a dose, you’re looking at something like 5 milligrams,” Cormode said. “It’s a tiny amount of material, and the nanoparticles are fairly easily synthesized, so we’re talking about a cost of cents per dose.”

Moving forward, Gao, Koo and Cormode and colleagues will continue to refine and improve the effectiveness of the nanoparticles to fight biofilms. “We’re studying the role of nanoparticle coatings, composition, size and so forth so we can engineer the particles for even better performance,” Cormode said.