Award-winning material set to reduce dental implant failure

A material that could help prevent artificial teeth implants falling out has won the Royal Academy of Engineering’s first launchpad competition for young entrepreneurs.

The material is twice as good at integrating with bone than existing graft substances, according to its creators at University College London, and so provides a more stable base into which a tooth implant can be fixed.

The founders of the spinout firm behind the Aerograft material, Dr Niall Kent and Dr Alessia D’Onofrio, will receive £15,000, as well as Academy support and mentorship, to help commercialise the technology.

After a tooth is removed, the remaining socket widens as the jawbone forming it gradually breaks down or “resorbs”, making it very difficult to screw a replacement tooth into the jaw. One in ten implants fail due to instability.

The graft made from the new granular material releases chemicals that form hydroxyapatite – a major component of bone – helping the graft to integrate with the surrounding bone, a process known as osseointegration.

This in turns helps speed up and improve the remodeling process by which the graft itself is eventually resorbed after three to six months and replaced with new bone.

‘We want there to be bone when the surgeon goes back to fit the implant,’ said Kent, who came up with the idea of using the material after his art student brother asked him to recreate it for a sculpture project.

‘If you can increase that remodeling rate you can have a much stronger implant fixation. That will increase the lifetime of the implant and decrease failure, which is fairly common with dental implants.’

He added: ‘The key advantage is the control you have over the resorbtion rate and also how well it osseointegrates: conventional products work at around 40 per cent, we bring that up to 80.’

This control means the material could be altered for other non-load-bearing bone graft applications – for example fusing verterbrae – to prevent it from being resorbed and instead provide a permanent artificial graft that creates greater stability.

The substance could also contribute to more effective sensitive toothpastes as it precipitates remineralisation much more quickly than existing products.

The Launchpad competition, funded by serial startup investor David Gammon, is an initiative of the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Enterprise Hub, which provides support to aspiring engineering entrepreneurs to help them commercialise technology breakthroughs.

The other finalists in the competition were Radial Genomics led by Hind Kraytem, which is developing an automated breast cancer detection technology based on gene analysis, and James Popper of Sinclair Fire, which is commercialising an infra-red fire alarm.

Also highly commended in the competition were Adeel Ali for a home 3D printing kit, and Jennie Morley for a home coffee bean roaster.