Researchers have developed a new type of dental composite that provides an extra layer of durability to treated teeth. The potential payoff is longer lasting fillings, crowns, implants, and other work.

Mussels and other inhabitants of the rocky intertidal zone have developed sophisticated methods of adhering to surfaces.
(Credit: Kollbe Ahn)

The researchers looked to mussels to find a way not only to maintain strength and hardness but also to add durability. The byssal threads mussels use to affix to surfaces allow them to resist the forces that would tear them from their moorings. Key to this mechanism is what the scientists call dynamic or sacrificial bonding — multiple reversible and weak bonds on the sub-nanoscopic molecular level that can dissipate energy without compromising the overall adhesion and mechanical properties of the load-bearing material.

The mussel’s byssus contain a high number of unique chemical functional groups called catechols, which are used to prime and promote adhesion to wet mineral surfaces. The new study shows that using a catecholic coupling agent instead of the conventional silane coupling agent provides 10 times higher adhesion and a 50 percent increase in toughness compared to current dental restorative resin composites.