The thought of having titanium screws implanted into one's jawbone is probably pretty unsettling for most of us, but for people who are getting individual teeth replaced, such implants are often required as attachment points for the artificial teeth. Once those screws are in place, patients often have to wait from about four to six months before they can chew solid food, as the bone surrounding the implant heals. Now, however, Swedish scientists have developed a new bioactive nanocoating for the screws, that promises to significantly decrease the required healing time.

The study was led by Per Aspenberg, a professor of orthopedic surgery at Linköping University.

His team deposited a nanometer-thin layer of protein on titanium implant screws, and attached to that protein was a drug belonging to the bisphosphonate family. Such drugs are typically used to treat osteoporosis, as they prevent the loss of bone mass. When applied to the screws, they reportedly provide protection against osteoclasts, which are bone-eating cells that can ordinarily cause implants to come loose.

In animal trials, bone surrounding treated screws was shown to quickly become denser and stronger. These trials were followed by a human test, in which 16 patients were utilized. Each person received two implants, one of which was surface-treated, and one of which wasn't - neither the patient nor the dental surgeon knew which was which.

After six months, for 15 of the subjects, the treated screw was considerably better established than the other one. Even after two months, in fact, X-rays revealed that the bone around the treated screw was healing faster. No subsequent complications were reported.

Linköping-based company AddBIO is now working on commercializing the nanocoating under the name of Zolidd, for use with various bone implants.

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Bone.