OHSU School of Dentistry Gets Grant to Study Sensitive Teeth

03/24/04    Portland, Ore.


Millions of people suffer from sensitive teeth. A spoonful of ice cream or a sip of hot soup can send them clutching their jaws in searing pain.

A variety of solutions have been tried to relieve this sharp pain, including liquids to swish and special toothpaste to brush. Now even more help may be on the way for people with sensitive teeth. A $90,000 two-year grant has been awarded to OHSU researchers Jack Ferracane, Ph.D., John Mitchell, Ph.D., M.S., and Jack McCarthy, Ph.D., to study a new agent to help people with this problem.

The three scientists earned the Innovation in Oral Care Award from the International Association for Dental Research and GlaxoSmithKline. The OHSU School of Dentistry was one of four dental schools out of 65 applicants to win this award, Ferracane said. He is professor and chairman of restorative dentistry, and director of the Division of Biomaterials and Biomechanics; and Mitchell is an assistant professor of dentistry (biomaterials and biomechanics), both are in the Oregon Health & Science University School of Dentistry. McCarthy is an assistant professor of biomedical engineering, OHSU OGI School of Science & Engineering.

The team will be studying the possibility of developing a new agent containing submicroscopic glass particles that would promote a chemical reaction when applied to the exposed tooth surface that feels sensitive. The chemical reaction would cause the formation of new mineral on the tooth, sealing off the surface and reducing or eliminating the pain people feel when they breathe air across these sensitive surfaces, or drink hot and cold beverages.

"It is our hope that a material can be developed that would actually be sold over the counter at some point in the future, and not have to be applied directly by a dentist," Ferracane said.

Sensitive teeth are one of the most common complaints among dental patients. At least 45 million adults in the United States and 5 million Canadians suffer at some time from sensitive teeth.

Tooth sensitivity is caused by the stimulation of cells within tiny tubes located in the dentin, the layer of tissue found beneath the hard enamel that contains the inner pulp. When the hard enamel is worn down or gums have receded, causing the tiny tube surfaces to be exposed, pain can be caused by eating or drinking food and beverages that are hot or cold, by touching your teeth, or by exposing them to cold air.

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