We've already heard about a probiotic pill, an Alzheimer's-treatment drug and a mineral-replacing toothpaste that could treat or even prevent cavities. Now, scientists at the University of Washington have developed a natural product of their own that may do the job.

Led by Prof. Mehmet Sarikaya, the researchers created peptides (short chains of amino acids) derived from amelogenin, which is a protein that's crucial to forming a tooth's hard crown enamel.

These peptides bind onto tooth surfaces, and then biomineralize by recruiting calcium and phosphate ions. In this way, they could conceivably rebuild teeth and "cure" early-stage cavities by restoring the mineral structure found in native tooth enamel.

In lab tests, the peptides allowed the deposition of 10 to 50 micrometers of new enamel on teeth after each application. It is hoped that once the technology is commercialized, it could find its way into a daily-use toothpaste which should be safe for adults and children, along with products such as gels that could be applied in dental clinics.

"Remineralization guided by peptides is a healthy alternative to current dental health care," says Sarikaya. "Peptide-enabled formulations will be simple and would be implemented in over-the-counter or clinical products."

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal ACS Biomaterials Science and Engineering.

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