Therapeutic agents (think mouthwash or toothpaste) intended to reduce dental plaque and prevent tooth decay are often removed by saliva and the act of swallowing before they can take effect. But a team of researchers has developed a way to keep the drugs from being washed away.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, and the University of Rochester hope their recent results will someday lead to better, and perhaps permanent treatments for dental plaque and tooth decay, as well as other biofilm-related diseases.

Dental plaque is a biofilm made up of bacteria enmeshed in a sticky matrix of extracellular polymers, a polymeric matrix, which is firmly attached to teeth. The researchers, led by co-senior authors Hyun (Michel) Koo, a professor in the Department of Orthodontics and the divisions of Pediatric Dentistry and Community Oral Health at the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, and Danielle Benoit, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Rochester, found a new way to deliver an antibacterial agent within the plaque, despite the presence of saliva.

The findings were published in the journal ACS Nano.

“Usually orally-delivered therapeutics are only transiently exposed to the mouth, think of a mouthwash or toothpaste in the mouth for only a couple of minutes at the most,” Koo said. “The problem was how to retain bioactive molecules on site to prevent or control oral biofilm formation.”

“We had two specific challenges,” said Benoit. “We had to figure out how to deliver the anti-bacterial agent to the teeth and keep it there, and also how to release the agent into the targeted sites.”

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