Tooth decay often requires numerous visits to the dentist and can recur despite treatments but scientists may have found a way to make all that a thing of the past.

Researchers have developed a new dental material that can not only kill bacteria but also prevent microbes from building up in the future.

The material, made using resin, contains an antimicrobial compound called imidazolium that resists biofilm growth, which is a result of microorganisms sticking to each other and to a surface.

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania say their material “is effective with minimal toxicity to the surrounding tissue” and is “non-leachable, thereby only killing microbes that touch it”.

Tooth decay.
Researchers have built dental material that resists bacteria (Man_at_mouse/Getty Images)

Study author Geelsu Hwang said: “This can reduce the likelihood of antimicrobial resistance.

“Dental biomaterials such as these need to achieve two goals: first, they should kill pathogenic microbes effectively, and, second, they need to withstand severe mechanical stress, as happens when we bite and chew.

“Many products need large amounts of antimicrobial agents to maximise killing efficacy, which can weaken the mechanical properties and be toxic to tissues, but we showed that this material has outstanding mechanical properties and long-lasting antibiofilm activities without cytotoxicity.”

Hwang and colleagues tested the material in the laboratory by exposing it to microbes.

Biofilms were much easier to remove when grown on a newly developed dental material, shown on the right, compared to a control material on the left (University of Pennsylvania )

They found the material to be “effective in killing bacterial cells on contact, severely disrupting the ability of biofilms to grow on its surface”, in contrast to the control material, which “showed a steady accumulation of sticky biofilm matrix over time”.

The team said there were “negligible” amounts of biofilm matrix, the glue that holds the groups of bacteria together, on the material, which the team was able to remove with minimal force.

According to Hwang, a force “equivalent to taking a drink of water could easily remove the biofilm from this material”.

The team is now looking to use its findings to help develop and test dental products.

The research is published in the journal ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces.