UNM dental technology could shake up the industry

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Leisha Armijo-Martin, in her laboratory where she works. She is a nanomaterials engineer who leads an MNT SmartSolutions team developing a remote-controlled magnetic antibacterial toothpaste and toothbrush. (Courtesy of MNT SmartSolutions LLC)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

A remote-controlled magnetic toothpaste and toothbrush that injects antibacterial solutions into the nooks and crannies of gums and teeth could soon hit the market, thanks to new nanotechnology being developed at the University of New Mexico.

The product is still under development, but a newly created start-up, MNT SmartSolutions LLC, is working to bring it to shelves in the next few years. Once available to consumers, it could potentially “revolutionize” the oral care industry, which has remained unchanged for as long as people can remember, according to company executives and the research team. who created it.

This team, led by nanomaterials engineer Leisha Armijo-Martin, includes current and former biologists, toxicologists, pharmaceutical and environmental scientists, and research engineers from UNM’s Center for Advanced Technology Materials. UNM, Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi, and Bristol Dental University. School in England.

The team wants to create a combination toothpaste and toothbrush that offers an interactive, nanotechnology-powered home dental care solution alongside Crest, Colgate and others, Armijo-Martin said.

“It could replace today’s toothpaste on store shelves, where we’ve seen the same toothpaste and toothbrushes for 50 to 100 years,” Armijo-Martin told the Journal. “It would be a smart, interactive toothpaste and toothbrush that shoppers could choose from while walking down the aisles.”

Nanotechnology

The product is based on non-toxic and environmentally friendly nanoparticles which, when combined with iron oxide, have both highly magnetic and antibacterial properties, Armijo-Martin said. This nanomaterial is the “secret sauce” that goes into toothpaste, which is then brushed normally onto the teeth and gums.

The toothbrush, however, is designed to create a remote-controlled electromagnetic field that can be turned on and off. Once ignited, it attracts nanoparticles embedded in toothpaste to hard-to-reach gums, cavities and crevices between teeth.

Once applied, the antimicrobial elements immediately attack bacteria and plaque formation in the mouth, with additional time-release effects that target infected areas.

The remote control toothbrush stays off until the toothpaste is applied to the teeth to prevent the nanomaterial magnetic beads from clumping together before brushing.

“You turn off the remote while the toothpaste is in the tube and while it’s being brushed on the teeth,” Armijo-Martin said. “Then you turn it on so the electromagnetic field pulls the nanoparticles under the gums and along the teeth to reach previously inaccessible areas.”

Nanoparticles specifically target bad bacteria.

Leisha Armijo-Martin, in her laboratory at work. Armijo-Martin is a nanomaterials engineer leading an MNT SmartSolutions team developing a remote-controlled magnetic antibacterial toothpaste and toothbrush. (Courtesy of MNT SmartSolutions LLC)

“People like to use mouthwash like Listerine, but it kills everything, including the good bacteria,” Armijo-Martin said. “It will preferentially attack only the bad bacteria.”

This targeted impact comes from the polymer coating embedded on the surface of the nanoparticles. The coating is similar to the chemistry of bad bacteria, which naturally produces a plastic film to protect its colonies.

“By designing magnetic particles with similar chemistry, the nanoparticles are attracted to the bacterial biofilm that accumulates,” Armijo-Martin said. “And they stay there because they release antimicrobial compounds to create a long-lasting effect.”

Armijo-Martin discovered the antibacterial potential of magnetic nanoparticles while working to develop them as a courier for targeted medicine to deliver drugs directly to infections.

“We discovered that the nanoparticles had their own antibacterial qualities,” she said.

This led to a research pivot to instead investigate the direct use of the particles against bacteria, both to prevent and treat infections.

The technology could also be applied as a topical and internal antibacterial treatment for wounds, abrasions and infections. But MNT SmartSolutions focuses first on the dental industry, which offers a huge market with great impact potential for preventing and treating periodontal disease, gingivitis and cavities.

Periodontitis is a chronic inflammatory condition resulting from the persistence of bacterial infections of the biofilm, or dental plaque, which is considered the 11th most common disease in the world. Besides tooth loss, it has been linked to many other health problems, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Direct-to-consumer sales

The company will offer its technology directly to orthodontists, but its biggest impact may be in the direct consumer market.

“People don’t like having their gums scraped,” Armijo-Martin said. “It’s painful and expensive. With this, they can do it themselves at home to prevent tooth decay and gum disease.

So far, laboratory tests on cells with bacterial cultures, as well as toxicity tests on human mammalian cells, have shown the technology to be effective and safe.

In May, the company received a first phase of $256,000 from the National Science Foundation to begin mouse trials, said John Chavez, chief financial officer of MNT SmartSolutions.

“We did all the bench work through in vitro testing,” Chavez told the Journal. “NSF funding allows us to move to control testing with mice. This work began in June.

When the mouse trials are complete, the MNT will apply for a second phase grant from the NSF to do more testing with other animals, before moving on to human clinical trials for Food and Drugs approval. United States Drug Administration, Chavez said.

The entire process could take four or five years before the technology can be brought to market.

MNT is one of 15 local companies formed by the New Mexico Startup Factory, which was launched 10 years ago to commercialize new technologies from research universities and national laboratories in the state. Chavez is president of the Startup Factory, which recently signed a license agreement to commercialize MNT technology with UNM’s Rainforest Innovations, which manages all of the university’s technology transfer and economic development programs.

Chavez sees huge potential for MNT.

“We have a cadre of very experienced oral health care researchers from New Mexico, Texas and England working on this,” Chavez said. “The dental care industry offers a huge market for new products, as there haven’t been many modern innovations for many years.”

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