Researchers at the Oregon Health and Sciences University (OHSU) School of Dentistry have received a $7.4 million, eight-year grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop materials for permanent dental fillings that won’t wear out.
“The ultimate goal is to not have to replace fillings,” said Carmem Pfeifer, DDS, PhD, an associate professor of biomaterials and biomechanics.
The researchers will experiment with durable, long-chain molecules known as polymers as well as antimicrobial additives that are specific to cavity-causing bacteria. Antimicrobial materials have been studied for dental fillings before, but these materials previously have been designed to fight a broad spectrum of bacteria, which can lead to antibacterial resistance.
The grant builds on years of dental material research for Pfeifer. Earlier this year, she published research describing a new dental filling material expected to last twice as long and a dental adhesive that’s 30% stronger than standard materials and adhesives.
“They crack under the pressure of chewing or have gaps form between the filling and the tooth, which allow bacteria to seep in and a new cavity to form,” said Pfeifer.
“Every time this happens, the tooth under the restorations becomes weaker and weaker, and what starts as a small cavity may end up with root canal damage, a lost tooth, or even life-threatening infections,” said Pfeifer.
Permanent dental fillings would have come in handy for Pfeifer in July. She had a filling crack and fall out just a year after she had received it. The filling failed even though she was treated by a skilled dentist with good quality materials.
“I was laughing out loud,” Pfeifer said. “I thought, ‘This is ironic. This is what I do.’”
The grant, a Sustaining Outstanding Achievement in Research (SOAR) Award, is in addition to another grant for nearly $500,000 she earned this spring, bringing her current NIH funding to about $7.9 million.
Issued by the NIH’s National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, SOAR Awards provide up to eight years of grant support to allow mid-career investigators with outstanding records of productivity to have stable funding to pursue transformative research programs.
Pfeifer is the second OHSU researcher to recently receive a SOAR Award. Justin Merritt, PhD, received a $7.8 million award last year to study the roles of microbial ecology and genetics in the oral microbiome.