TAMU-CC Researchers Work to Revolutionize Dental Technology, Funded by NSF Grant for $256K

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Within the state-of-the-art labs at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi’s Tidal Hall, a group of researchers are using groundbreaking magnetic nanotechnology to change the landscape of at-home dental care. The project could revitalize an industry that, while growing, hasn’t seen major changes in decades.

Dr. Leisha Armijo-Martin, TAMU-CC Nanomaterials Engineer and Nanotoxicologist, is spearheading the research which makes use of an interactive remote-controlled toothpaste/toothbrush combination that uses highly magnetic and anti-bacterial properties to target gums, cavities, and hard-to-reach crevices within the teeth. The combination product will treat existing plaque and bacteria and is predicted to prevent the growth of harmful biofilms that are responsible for an estimated 80% of all microbial infections. In addition, Martin said the product could assist people with permanent or temporary wires or orthodontic devices which are traditionally difficult to clean. Gingivitis and periodontitis, which are the most common gum diseases in adults, are linked to serious health conditions including tooth loss, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease, and cardiovascular disease.

“There is a huge problem with consumers being able to specifically reach below the gum line to target the bad bacteria as opposed to trying to get rid of all bacteria, because some are actually beneficial,” Martin said. “This project addresses that need. As long as I can remember when I walk down the toothpaste aisle, there’s been the same products for years. This technology has a chance to provide the dental industry with something new.”

The project is funded by a $256,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. Martin also leads the project as the Chief Technology Officer of MNT Support Solutions, LLC. The biotech company, which is the lead collaborator on the project, engineers sustainable, modern materials, with unique electronic and magnetic properties to advance science and medicine. Martin is working closely with co-investigator Dr. Wei Xu, TAMU-CC Associate Professor of Life Sciences, and a group of all-female Islander students. Other collaborators include researchers from the University of Texas at Austin, the University of New Mexico, and the University of Bristol in England.

“Only about one-fourth of the STEM workforce is female, including Black and Hispanic females which comprise only about 2 percent,” Martin said. “Very often, students are not able to identify a female tech mentor, much less one that they can relate to. TAMU-CC has provided me with a diverse, talented group of female students and the opportunity to offer them mentorship in STEM and uniquely female struggles.”

Nicole Murphy ’23, biomedical sciences major, is one of the TAMU-CC student researchers working with Martin. Murphy says while dental care is often not identified as such, it is a major factor in one’s long-term health journey.

“Dental care is often taken for granted because it doesn’t take a lot of effort and it’s often easily accessible,” Murphy said. “Taking care of your teeth, or refusing to do so, could shorten someone’s life span by six to eight years or more.”

The team is currently using mice as test subjects. So far, testing has been shown to wipe out infections with just one treatment. Per U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations, the team will need to conduct testing on another mammalian species before they can begin human clinical trials.

Once the product is approved by the FDA, Martin says the toothbrush/toothpaste combination will be marketed to adult-age orthodontic patients with the goal of landing on local store shelves within the next two years.

“Dental surgery and deep cleanings are all very costly — even with insurance,” Martin said. “At the end of the day, this project is about improving the quality of care available to everyday people. Toothpaste should move, it should scrub — our high-tech, interactive toothbrush and toothpaste combination is the dental care routine of the future.”