Diamonds might be hardest known mineral on the planet but recent research shows they may also be an attractive therapeutic treatment for bone decay, especially in the mouth. Now before you think of getting yourself some shiny new gemstones for your teeth, these diamonds aren’t the type that you can adorn your teeth with; they’re nanodiamonds.
Nanodiamonds are created as byproducts of conventional mining and refining processes and are only four or five nanometers in diameter. To put that in perspective it’s about double the width of a strand of human DNA – minuscule, by even cellular standards! Nanodiamonds also have a unique shape, they look like soccer balls and at a microscopic scale. This shape provides a large surface area for things to attach to.
Another important property of these amazing structures, is that not only are they very resistant to breakdown, but they are also great platforms for attaching proteins and growth factors to. Nanodiamonds have been tested as a potential cancer therapy. This prompted researchers to test their ability to combat bone loss.
One of the leading causes of bone decay and damage is osteonecrosis, the loss of blood vessels and blood flow in the tissue surrounding the bone. In the bones of the jaw, and especially in teeth, osteonecrosis can be a serious concern. It can make even simple tasks like talking and eating difficult and painful. False teeth can become loose and even fall out when the bones of the jaw weaken and degrade.
Making this problem worse is that there is not a lot of bone in the mouth to use as a graft, so repairing bones requires extensive surgery. This surgery is invasive, painful and expensive to perform. A sponge soaked with growth factors is implanted into the jaw to both stop the breakdown of existing bone and to help promote bone regrowth, but all that may change with the use of nanodiamonds.
Using nanodiamonds instead of sponges removes the need for any surgery. Nanodiamonds can be applied as a local and topical treatment, such as an injection or even a mouth rinse. The specific structures of these nanodiamonds lend themselves nicely to binding to the same growth factors used for a sponge implantation surgery.
These growth factors are slowly released from the nanodiamonds and at a steady rate, which allows for a long and even treatment process. Repeated treatments can be given easily eliminating the need for surgery and saving the patient discomfort and a long recovery process. So far these nanodiamonds have been tested on cells and some animals, with human trials to begin shortly.
And if it works well in the bones of the mouth it might even be applied to broken bones in the rest of your body. Nanodiamonds for your broken arm or leg might just be the next step. So the next time you go and see your dentist you might be getting a mouth rinse with diamonds in it, and that is something to smile about.
Creative Commons photograph courtesy of Greg M on Flickr.