New dental product may slash treatment costs

Prof George Dias (left) and Dr Jithendra Ratnayake with their material developed from cattle...
Prof George Dias (left) and Dr Jithendra Ratnayake with their material developed from cattle bones. Photo: Gerard O'Brien.
In New Zealand, hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent treating bone fractures and on dental surgery every day - but a new material created from cattle bones at the University of Otago could change that, a researcher says.

Dr Jithendra Ratnayake said synthetic hydroxyapatite material used to temporarily fill in gaps before bones healed - for instance deep holes left when dentists extracted wisdom teeth - was powdery and difficult to handle, as well as being ''really expensive''.

It could cost $600 for a small cube of the material, and was one of the reasons why having wisdom teeth out was so dear.

Using cattle bones as a base, it was possible to form a new material which was easier to work with, more solid and porous.

The same amount of the new material cost only about $10, Dr Ratnayake said.

Taking the fat and collagen out of the cattle bones was so simple it could be done at home, he said.

Dr Ratnayake worked alongside collaborators Department of Anatomy researcher Prof George Dias and dental school lecturer Peter Cathro.

The product they had created had passed biocompatability tests showing it was not toxic, and was undergoing further testing. It would be ready to go to market in about 18 months' time, Dr Ratnayake said.

An example of the cattle-bone product.
An example of the cattle-bone product.

As well as being much cheaper than other products, it would ''improve New Zealand's economy'' by using up waste products from the agricultural industry. His work grew out of Dr Ratnayake's PhD research, and said he initially became interested in it after being approached by a meat company who wanted to know if they could add value to bones.

The material acted as a ''scaffolding'' as the bone closed up.

''It just goes away,'' Dr Ratnayake said.

''It allows the bones to grow.''

Dr Ratnayake said he was interested in the material's application when it came to dentistry, but potentially it had applications in orthopaedic treatment as
well, for instance in metaphyseal ''buckle'' fractures.

The powdered form of the bone-based product could be incorporated into toothpaste, Dr Ratnayake said.

elena.mcphee@odt.co.nz

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