GETTING STUCK IN RUSH HOUR TRAFFIC. Hammering your thumb. Paper cuts. All things that are miserable, but none may be as universally despised as going to the dentist to get a cavity filled.
A new product developed by 3M ESPE—and based on technology invented by Christopher Bowman, distinguished professor of chemical and biological engineering—may be able to ease the experience. Filtek Bulk Fill Posterior Restorative can reduce the time you have to spend in the dentist’s chair.
A team of researchers led by Bowman developed a key component of the new cavity-filler, which allows the material to be “low stress.” This helps prevent cracking and shrinkage, which can break the seal where the filling meets the tooth and allow decay to creep in.
To moderate the stress that can build up using traditional dental polymers, dentists fill the cavity one layer at a time, curing each new coating with light before adding the next layer. Deep cavities currently require up to four layers.
“Stress causes significant problems for dental composites and can lead to premature failure,” Bowman says. “With this low-stress material, the dentist can fill the entire cavity in one layer.”
The technology was licensed to 3M, a diversified technology company based in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 2013. They rolled out the new fill material on Oct. 1, 2014, with the tagline “one and done.”
Bowman’s research team, however, is not done. The possible applications for the polymer technology invented at CU-Boulder go well beyond simply filling cavities.
“Low-stress materials are important for a lot of applications,” says Bowman. In fact, being low stress is a desirable trait in nearly any coating because it can prevent warping of the underlying material and peeling off of the coating.
The way Bowman’s high-tech polymer is applied as a coating can affect the properties of the end product as well. By choosing different patterns and methods with which the coating is applied, the coating can be made more adhesive, or conversely, to be a nonstick surface.