A team of researchers from four institutions located in Romania and St. Kitts have worked together to determine whether graphene could be used to create more durable dental materials. They worked to test how toxic different forms of the material were to teeth, with promising results.

Consisting of a one-atom-thick sheet of linked carbon atoms, graphene is a pretty versatile material. We've seen it used to create an ultra sensitive microphone, to build the world's thinnest light bulb, and it's even been used to help create low-cost solar cells. Now, a team of Elsevier researchers has dreamt up yet another use for the material – dental fillings.

According to a 2011 study, we put our teeth through a lot, chewing some 800 times per meal, and as much as a million times every year. When they inevitably get damaged, we use fillings to repair them, usually with metals like silver and tin, or other materials like ceramics.

Those materials are prone to decay or simply aren't that strong. Graphene on the other hand is much more durable – not only does it not corrode, but it's some 200 times stronger than steel. That makes it a good candidate for use in dental materials, but before it could be considered for use, the researchers had to determine how toxic it might be.

Three different forms were tested on teeth stems cells in the lab – graphene oxide, thermally-reduced graphene oxide, and nitrogen-doped graphene. The results showed the latter two variants were both damaging to the cells, being either toxic or causing membrane damage. The graphene oxide was the least toxic of the group, and according to the researchers, could represent a good candidate for further study.

"The results were very interesting and proved that graphene is appropriate for use in dental materials," says study co-author Dr. Gabriela Adriana Filip, of Romania's Iuliu Hatieganu University of Medicine and Pharmacy. "We believe that this research will bring new knowledge about the cytotoxic properties of graphene-based materials and their potential applications in dental materials."

The researchers plan to continue their work, creating dental materials with graphene oxide and testing them directly on teeth. The results of the work so far are published in the journal Colloids & Surface B: Biointerfaces.

Source: Elsevier