What began as a research project at Creighton University in 2010 to investigate a new material to repair cracks in dental products has blossomed into a promising technology that can repair teeth and bolster them against decay.
The technology – called microencapsulation – and the years of research behind it serve as the basis of a dental-care innovation known as SmartCap. It’s been incorporated into a newly released dental sealant marketed as Biocoat.
The sealant releases ions that help fight tooth decay.
Stephen Gross, PhD, professor of chemistry in Creighton’s College of Arts and Sciences, and Mark Latta, DMD, MS, dean of Creighton’s School of Dentistry, teamed up seven years ago to embark on their research mission that resulted in the breakthrough.
The microcapsules at the heart of the technology emerged from their laboratory collaboration. Gross likens them to “water balloons” of calcium, phosphate and fluoride ions. When applied to a tooth, the sealant can re-mineralize teeth, creating enamel and preventing tooth decay.
Latta and Gross say Creighton students were key to the breakthrough. Their work builds off the contributions of more than 25 student researchers – undergraduates and graduate students alike – that fostered a team-oriented approach to the work.
Grant MacKinnon, who received his undergraduate degree from Creighton in the spring, was part of a nine-person team working in both Gross’ undergraduate lab and labs in the School of Dentistry to put final touches on this seven-year endeavor.
Of the diverse team, McKinnon says: “We have a very widespread knowledge base and we’re able to go to each other for different things.”
Latta calls it “a truly collaborative effort.”
“It takes a team committed to working together and a vision to help advance patient care,” he says.
Keyrolos Bottros, a second-year Creighton dental student, has worked extensively with Gross and Latta on the project. He characterizes them as student-focused, selecting students who are passionate about dental research and have a good grasp on the science behind it.
Gross says his approach is to first teach his students how to research. “If we can improve oral health care at the same time, that is great.”
With numerous patents, both received and pending, SmartCap looks to expand beyond the Biocoat product, which now is being manufactured by the Premier Dental Products Company through BJM Laboratories in Israel. SmartCap can be applied to a number of products that can help fight decay using re-mineralization strategies. Latta says a bioactive orthodontic cement is next on the horizon.
Latta’s and Gross’s students revel in what they’ve been able to help accomplish.
“It is one thing to spend all this time researching and learning and then walk away knowing that you are a more proficient person in the sciences, but having something tangible in your hands, as a result of that research, is an opportunity I had never imagined,” MacKinnon says.
Creighton University offers a top-ranked education in the Jesuit, Catholic tradition.