UNM dental technology could shake up the industry

Leisha Armijo-Martin, in her laboratory where she works. She is a nanomaterials engineer who leads a team at MNT SmartSolutions developing a magnetic, remote-controlled antibacterial toothpaste and toothbrush. (Courtesy of MNT SmartSolutions LLC)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

A remote-controlled, magnetic toothpaste and toothbrush that injects antibacterial solutions into the corners of the gums and teeth could soon be on the market, thanks to new nanotechnology developed at the University of New Mexico.

The product is still in development, but a start-up company, MNT SmartSolutions LLC, is working to get it on store shelves in the next few years. Once available to consumers, it could “revolutionize” the oral care industry, which has remained unchanged for as long as people can remember, according to company executives and the research team that created it.

This team, led by nanomaterials engineer Leisha Armijo-Martin, includes UNM biologists, toxicologists, pharmaceutical and environmental scientists, and research engineers from the UNM Center for Advanced Materials, Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi and University of Bristol Dental. School in England.

The team wants to create a combo package of toothpaste and toothbrush that offers an interactive, nanotechnology-powered at-home dental care solution for shoppers that sits alongside Crest, Colgate and the like, Armijo said. – Martin.

“This could replace the current toothpaste on store shelves, where we’ve seen the same toothpaste and toothbrushes for 50 to 100 years,” Armijo-Martin told the Journal. “It would be a smart, interactive toothpaste and toothbrush that shoppers could choose as they walk down the aisles.”


The product is based on non-toxic, environmentally friendly nanoparticles that, when combined with iron oxide, have highly magnetic and antibacterial properties, Armijo-Martin said. This nanomaterial is the “secret sauce” that goes into the toothpaste, which is then brushed normally through the teeth and gums.

The toothbrush, however, is designed to create a remotely controlled electromagnetic field that can be turned on and off. Once switched on, it shoots the nanoparticles embedded in the toothpaste into the gums, cavities and hard-to-reach crevices between the teeth.

Once applied, the antimicrobial elements immediately attack bacteria and plaque formation in the mouth, with additional sustained-release effects that target infected areas.

The remote control toothbrush stays off until the toothpaste is applied to the teeth to prevent the nanomaterial magnetic balls from clumping together before brushing.

“Turn off the remote control while the toothpaste is in the tube and while you’re brushing your teeth,” Armijo-Martin said. “Then you turn it on so that the electromagnetic field pulls the nanoparticles below the gum lines and along the teeth to reach previously unreachable areas.”

Nanoparticles specifically target bad bacteria.

Leisha Armijo-Martin, in her lab at work. Armijo-Martin is a nanomaterials engineer who leads a team at MNT SmartSolutions that is developing a magnetic, remote-controlled antibacterial toothpaste and toothbrush. (Courtesy of MNT SmartSolutions LLC)

“People like to use mouthwashes like Listerine, but that kills everything, including the good bacteria,” Armijo-Martin said. “This will preferentially attack only the bad bacteria.”

This targeted impact comes from the polymer coating embedded on the surface of the nanoparticles. The coating is similar to the chemistry found in bad bacteria, which naturally produce a plastic film to protect their colonies.

“By designing magnetic particles with a similar chemistry, the nanoparticles are attracted to the bacterial biofilm that accumulates,” said Armijo-Martin. “And they stay there while releasing antimicrobial compounds to create a long-lasting effect.”

Armijo-Martin discovered the antibacterial potential of magnetic nanoparticles while working to develop them as messengers for targeted drugs to deliver drugs directly to infections.

“We found that the nanoparticles had their own antibacterial qualities,” he said.

This led to a research pivot to study the direct use of the particles against bacteria, both to prevent and treat infection.

The technology could also be applied as a topical and internal antibacterial treatment for wounds, abrasions and infections. But MNT SmartSolutions is focusing first on the dental industry, which offers a huge market with potential for broad impact in preventing and treating periodontal disease, gingivitis and cavities.

Periodontitis is a chronic inflammatory disease resulting from the persistence of bacterial infections by biofilm, or dental plaque, which is considered the 11th most prevalent disease in the world. In addition to tooth loss, it has been linked to many other health problems, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.

Direct sales to the consumer

The company will offer its technology directly to orthodontists, but its biggest impact could be in the direct-to-consumer market.

“People don’t like having their gums scraped,” Armijo-Martin said. “It is painful and expensive. With this, they can do it themselves at home to prevent tooth decay and gum disease.”

To date, laboratory tests on cells with bacterial cultures, as well as toxicity tests on human mammalian cells, have shown the technology to be effective and safe.

In May, the company received a $256,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to begin mouse testing, said John Chavez, chief financial officer of MNT SmartSolutions.

“We did all the bench work using in vitro testing,” Chavez told the Journal. “The NSF funding allows us to move to monitoring tests in mice. This work began in June.”

Once the mouse trials are complete, MNT will seek a second phase NSF grant to conduct further testing in other animals, before moving on to human clinical trials to gain approval from the US Food and Drug Administration , Chavez said.

The full process could take four to five years before the technology can reach the market.

MNT is one of 15 local companies formed by the New Mexico Startup Factory, which launched 10 years ago to commercialize new technologies from the state’s research universities and national labs. Chavez is president of the Startup Factory, which recently signed a licensing agreement to commercialize MNT technology with UNM’s Rainforest Innovations, which manages all of the university’s technology transfer and economic development programs.

Chavez sees great potential for MNT.

“We have a cadre of researchers with a lot of experience in the world of oral care from New Mexico, Texas and England working on this,” Chavez said. “The dental care industry offers a huge market for new products, because it hasn’t had a lot of modern innovation for many years.”

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