Penn Dental Medicine Study Finds a Combined Treatment that Could Take a Bite Out of Tooth Decay

Penn Dental Medicine
penn dental medicine


While fluoride-based treatments have long been the gold standard in dentistry for preventing tooth decay, this singular approach does not sufficiently control biofilm—the main culprit behind dental caries (cavities)—and prevent enamel demineralization at the same time. This dual dilemma becomes particularly pronounced in high-risk populations where the onset of the disease can be both rapid and severe.

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Now, a study from a team of researchers led by Penn Dental Medicine’s Hyun (Michel) Koo in collaboration with David Cormode of Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine and School of Engineering and Applied Science has unveiled an unexpected synergy in the battle against dental caries. Their research revealed that combining stannous fluoride (SnF2)—the fluoride routinely used in dental care products—with ferumoxytol (Fer), an off-the-shelf iron oxide nanoparticle formulation, could point to a potent solution against dental caries. Their findings were published in Nature Communications.

“Traditional treatments often come short in managing the complex biofilm environment in the mouth,” says Koo, senior co-author on the study. “Our combined treatment not only amplifies the effectiveness of each agent but does so with a lower dosage, hinting at a potentially revolutionary method for caries prevention in high-risk individuals.”

Their findings include the ability of Fer to stabilize SnF2, the heightened catalytic activity of Fer when combined with SnF2, and the formation of a protective Fe/Sn/F-rich film on tooth enamel, which can serve as a shield against further demineralization. What’s more, this combined therapy doesn’t disrupt the ecological balance of the oral microbiota and has no adverse side effects on the surrounding host tissues.

Cormode, senior co-author of the paper, says, “What excites us most is the multi-faceted approach to caries prevention. It’s not just about inhibiting bacterial growth or protecting the enamel; it’s a holistic method that targets both the biological and physicochemical aspects of dental caries.”

The researchers also note that, beyond this protective and proactive measure, a secondary benefit surfaced. Many children with severe tooth decay also suffer from iron deficiency anemia. Using Fer might address the dental and anemia concerns simultaneously.

Reflecting on the next steps, Koo says, “While we are happy with these initial findings, we aim to dig deeper in understanding the intricate mechanisms of action while advancing Fer-SnF2 combination treatment to clinical trials.”

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