Magnesium in enamel at atomic scale is shown. (CREDIT: Tom Hartley - University of Sydney)
It is reported that one in two Australian children below 12 years of age have tooth decay in their permanent teeth. A research team from the University of Sydney believe that they have developed nanoscale elements that can control the behavior of human teeth.
Structures and material engineers collaborated with dentists and bioengineers to analyze the exact structure and composition of tooth enamel at the atomic level.
Researchers were able to produce 3D maps that displayed the location of atoms that are crucial in the decay process. To obtain these 3D maps, researchers used a comparatively new microscopy technique known as atom probe tomography.
The new insight gained about the nanolevel atomic composition of tooth decay helps to prevent dental cavities and maintaining oral health hygiene. This research work has been published in the recent issue of the journal Science Advances.
The dental professionals have known that certain trace ions are important in the tough structure of tooth enamel but until now it had been impossible to map the ions in detail. The structure of human tooth enamel is extremely intricate and while we have known that magnesium, carbonate and fluoride ions influence enamel properties scientists have never been able to capture its structure at a high enough resolution or definition. What we have found are the magnesium-rich regions between the hydroxyapatite nanorods that make up the enamel. This means we have the first direct evidence of the existence of a proposed amorphous magnesium-rich calcium phosphate phase that plays an essential role in governing the behavior of teeth.
Professor Julie Cairney, University of Sydney
Dr Alexandre La Fontaine from the University's Australian Centre for Microscopy and Microanalysis, who as also co-authored this study, told that:
“We were also able to see nanoscale 'clumps' of organic material, which indicates that proteins and peptides are heterogeneously distributed within the enamel rather than present along all the nanorod interfaces, which was what was previously suggested.
The mapping has the potential for new treatments designed around protecting against the dissolution of this specific amorphous phase.
The new understanding of how enamel forms will also help in tooth remineralisation research."