Tooth decay and periodontal disease get their start in the mouth when the harmful bacteria, Streptococcus mutan, some types of lactobacilli, and A. actinomycetemcomitans, etc. begin to multiply out of control. They form large communities, known as plaque, and take-up residence on the tooth surface. The bacteria are happy in their new home, feeding on remnants of food and beverage particles that saliva and a toothbrush failed to remove. As the bacteria eat, the waste product produced is in the form of an acid. The acid, if left on the tooth structure, begins to work away at the tooth enamel. (The hard, outside layer of the tooth that we see when looking at our teeth). Tiny spots begin to form on the tooth where the acid has eroded the enamel. This is the first stage of tooth decay. If left untreated, the acid produced by the bacteria, continues to “eat away” at the enamel, weakening the tooth. If plaque has formed at the base of the tooth, the gum tissue becomes irritated, with a red and swollen appearance. (Gingivitis. The first stage of periodontal disease.) If left untreated, the bacteria eventually finds its way to the bone tissue and/or root of the tooth.
Antibiotics are often used as part of the recommended treatment to control the overpopulation of harmful bacteria in the mouth. However, some strains of these harmful bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics. This is a problem that has led researchers to look for new ways to combat large colonies of harmful strains of bacteria in the mouth.
One promising lead comes from research conducted by Chinese scientist and researcher Zisheng Teng and his team from the National Science Foundation and Shanghai Jiao Tong University. In a study published in the February 23, 2015 issue of the ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces journal titled, "Killing dental pathogens using antibacterial graphene oxide”, results revealed that graphene oxide is effective in inhibiting the growth of bacteria, (specifically Streptococcus mutans, P. gingivalis, and F. nucleatum), by weakening the cell walls and membranes causing the intracellular contents to “leak out”, effectively slowing the growth of the bacteria.
What is graphene oxide?
Graphene is a thin layer of pure carbon atoms which are tightly packed and bonded together in a hexagonal honeycomb lattice. This two-dimensional crystal structure is the thinnest compound known to man, extremely lightweight and stronger than steel. Its intriguing electronic, optical and mechanical properties make it a very versatile compound for use in a wide range of applications. Graphene oxide is simply a layer of graphene that contains oxygen atoms.