Saturday, December 8, 2012

Mussels Make Their Way Into Your Mouth

We all have had our fair share of visits to the dentist and have sat there in that cold and weird smelling office not knowing how are teeth will hold up to the scrutiny of the dentist.  One thing most patients share in common, other than a unified hatred towards the doctor, is that they have absolutely no idea what is going on inside their mouth.

Dentists employ a variety of tools and procedures but essentially it all boils down to anesthetizing the patient, drilling and removing decay, and finally bonding the restoration to the tooth.  The only part we will be focusing on is the bonding.  Currently dentists use inorganic adhesives to bond to the dentin or enamel of the tooth.  These adhesives are very difficult to work with and are for the most part very light and time sensitive.  The main drawback for adhesives of the status quo is that their performance is very limited in moist environments, this poses a problem in the moist damp cave we know as our mouth.  Try as you might, properly desiccating a tooth for the final restoration is very difficult and sometimes impossible.  This is why most restorations have a limited life expectancy.

Dr. Herbert Waite, and his team of Phd. students at UCSB are conducting research on the adhesive abilities of Mytilus, commonly known as mussels.  The mussels have an organ that protrudes through their tough outer shell that adheres to almost any surface underwater.  This organ is known as the foot, and its adhesive abilities are remarkable.  The foot combined with byssal fibers are what is responsible for the adhesion and Dr. Waite's lab has found a protein denoted as Mfp-2 that makes up roughly 50% of the organ.  This protein in the presence of ions such as Ca and Fe, commonly found in the ocean, display greater than normal adhesive properties to metallic surfaces.  The plan is to study how these proteins achieve such properties and synthesize them in the lab for use is biomedical adhesives.  This would not only pertain to the dental field but plastic surgery and even reconstructive surgeries, eliminating the need for extended periods of stints held together by screws.  You can read more about their research here or visit the Waite Lab here on campus.

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