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South Coast Researchers Say Bonding Used By Mussels In Nature Can Improve Dental Restoration Work

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Some new technology at UC Santa Barbara inspired by nature may soon mean fewer trips to the dentist.

UC Santa Barbara researchers say the way ocean mussels bond to rocks, and other coastal surfaces to survive has shown them ways of creating longer lasting dental restoration work like crowns and implants.

Dr. Kollbe Ahn is a materials scientist at UCSB’s Marine Science Institute. He says what they’ve learned from mussels is that instead of having one bond to a surface, which basically means they are totally reliant on one strong bond, they have a number of weaker ones. They call them sacrificial bonds, because they can dissipate energy without losing the overall adhesion between surfaces.

Ahn says the net result is that you’re not putting all of your eggs in one basket, so to speak, by relying on a single bond. Ahn says he’s been working on the new dental restoration composite for five years, but is really building on three decades of work by his colleagues. Also key to the breakthrough was having a dentist participating in the research.

The UCSB research says crowns and implants would be made out of the same materials. The difference is in the coupling materials being used with the same ingredients. Ahn says this approach provides 10 times higher adhesion, and a 50% increase in toughness compared to current dental composites. Instead of the restoration work cracking like it does now, it would wear down over time, and last longer.

Ahn says he thinks the new dental composite will in use in about five years.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.