Reversible stickiness is something to smile about

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dental cements
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The adhesion of currently available dental materials to tooth surfaces continues to improve, but what about short-term treatments that are not supposed to adhere indefinitely? Now Japanese researchers have developed a method of making dental materials easier to remove—and published their findings in ACS Applied Polymer Materials.

The continual improvement of long-lasting caries treatments can be regarded a triumph of dental material research. However, there are dental procedures that require non-permanent adhesion to the tooth surface, such as the fixing of orthodontic brackets. Removing adhered materials after such procedures generally requires mechanical detachment that can damage tooth enamel.

Efforts to improve removal processes have produced materials that are weakened by triggers, such as heat or electric currents. However, approved sources of these stimuli are not readily available in standard dental clinics. 

To address this, researchers from Tokyo and Medical Dental University focused on UV light-responsive materials that can be triggered by the UV sources widely used by dentists to cure resin cements and composites.

And as the toughness of many dental cements is a result of mixing them with a cross-linker that locks the cement molecules to each other to form a stable network, the team also introduced a chemical ‘switch’ into a new cross-linker that opens when UV light is shone on it.

“The cross-linker structure resembles rings threaded onto a piece of string with bulky stoppers at each end,” study lead author Atsushi Tamura said. 

“We have added a section to the string—an o-nitrobenzyl ester group—that breaks under UV light causing the rings to slide off. This has a significant effect on the stability of the cement material the cross-linker is holding in place.”

The researchers used their cross-linker to stabilise a commercially available resin cement that was used to stick two polymer blocks together, or to attach a polymer block to a bovine tooth. After shining UV light on the cross-linked cement for just two minutes, the cement showed a significant reduction in adhesion strength in both tests, meaning separation of the bonded materials was easier following UV treatment.

“We are very encouraged by the initial findings using our cross-linker,” study corresponding author Nobuhiko Yui said. 

“Although the UV wavelength used to disrupt the material was not clinically appropriate in this case, we intend to develop the chemistry of our internal switch so that it can provide a facile and readily accessible method of removing adhesives in the clinic.”

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