UNM dental technology could shake up the industry

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

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

A remote-controlled, magnetic toothpaste and toothbrush that injects anti-bacterial solutions into the nooks and crannies of gums and teeth could soon be on the market, thanks to novel nanotechnology developed at the University of New Mexico.

The product is still under development, but a newly created startup company, MNT SmartSolutions LLC, is working to have it on store 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 officials and the research team that created it.

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

The team wants to create a combination toothpaste and toothbrush package that offers an interactive, nanotech-powered, at-home dental-care solution for customers living with Crest, Colgate and the like, 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 will be a smart, interactive toothpaste and toothbrush that shoppers can choose as they walk down the aisle.”

Nanotechnology

The product is based on non-toxic, environmentally friendly nanoparticles, which when combined with iron oxide have high-magnetic and anti-bacterial properties, Armijo-Martin said. That warm ingredient is the “secret sauce” that goes into toothpaste, which is commonly brushed onto teeth and gums.

Toothbrushes, however, are designed to create a remote-controlled electromagnetic field that can be turned on and off. Once on, it pulls the nanoparticles stuck in the toothpaste into the hard-to-reach crevices between the gums, cavities and teeth.

Once applied, the anti-microbial ingredients immediately attack bacteria and plaque formation in the mouth, with additional, sustained-release effects that target infected areas.

The remote-controlled toothbrush remains closed until toothpaste is applied to the tooth to prevent the magnetic forces from clumping together on the warm material on the tooth.

“You turn off the remote when the toothpaste is in the tube and you’re brushing your teeth,” Armijo-Martin said. “Then you turn it on for the electromagnetic field to get the nanoparticles down the gum lines and along the teeth to areas they couldn’t reach before.”

Nanoparticles specifically target bad bacteria.

Leisha Armijo-Martin, in her lab at work. Armijo-Martin is a nanomaterials engineer who leads the MNT SmartSolutions team developing a remote-controlled, magnetic anti-bacterial 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.”

That targeting effect comes from the polymer coating embedded on the surface of the nanoparticles. The coating is similar to a chemical found in bad bacteria, which naturally form a plastic film to protect its colonies.

“By engineering magnetic particles with the same chemistry, the nanoparticles are attracted to the bacterial biofilm that forms,” ​​Armijo-Martin said. “And they stay there because they release anti-microbial compounds to create a lasting effect.”

Armizo-Martin discovered the anti-bacterial potential of magnetic nanoparticles while developing them as couriers for targeted drugs to deliver drugs directly to infections.

“We found the nanoparticles have their own anti-bacterial properties,” she said.

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

The technique can also be used as a topical and internal anti-bacterial treatment for wounds, sores and infections. But MNT SmartSolutions is focusing on the dental industry for the first time, which offers a huge market with the potential for wide impact in preventing and treating periodontal disease, gingivitis and cavities.

Periodontitis is a chronic inflammatory condition caused by bacterial biofilm infection, or the persistence of dental plaque, which is considered the 11th most prevalent disease in the world. Besides tooth loss, it is linked to many other health problems including heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

Direct consumer sales

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

“People don’t like having their gums scraped,” Armijo-Martin said. “It’s painful and expensive. It can be done at home to prevent tooth decay and gum disease.

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

In May, the company received a first-stage $256,000 National Science Foundation grant to begin mouse testing, said MNT SmartSolutions Chief Financial Officer John Chavez.

“We’ve done all the bench work through in-vitro testing,” Chavez told the Journal. “NSF funding allows us to move forward with controlled experiments with mice. That’s the work that’s begun.”

When the rat trials are finished, MNT will seek a second round of NSF grants to conduct additional trials with other animals before moving on to human clinical trials to gain approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Chavez said.

The entire process of getting a technology to market can take four or five years.

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

Chavez sees great potential for the MNT.

“We have a cadre of highly experienced researchers in the world of oral care from New Mexico, Texas and England who are working on this,” Chavez said. “The dental care industry offers a huge market for new products, because it hasn’t had many modern innovations in years.”

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