Scientists say they have developed a material which could help regenerate tooth enamel - and prevent tooth decay or sensitivity in the future.
Coating the outer part of the teeth, enamel is the hardest tissue in the body and can resist extreme temperatures and acidic food and drinks, helping it last for decades.
But unlike other tissues in the body, once it is lost it cannot regrow - leading to pain and tooth loss for around 50% of the world's population.
Researchers at Queen Mary University of London now say they have developed a new way to grow mineralised material, which could pave the way for regenerating hard tissues such as enamel and bone.
Dr Sherif Elsharkawy, a dentist and first author of the study, said: "This is exciting because the simplicity and versatility of the mineralisation platform opens up opportunities to treat and regenerate dental tissues.
"For example, we could develop acid-resistant bandages that can infiltrate, mineralise, and shield exposed dentinal tubules (microscopic channels) in human teeth for the treatment of hypersensitivity."
The team found a protein that is able to trigger the growth of crystals, in a similar way to how crystals grow when dental enamel develops in the body.
Lead author Professor Alvaro Mata said the "key discovery" had been finding a way to exploit proteins to control and guide the process of mineralisation.
"Through this, we have developed a technique to easily grow synthetic materials that emulate such hierarchically organised architecture over large areas and with the capacity to tune their properties," he added.
The experts believe their work, published in science journal Nature Communications, has the potential to be used in a variety of ways in regenerative medicine.
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