Industry, researchers, pursue dentistry without mercury

The Federal government has awarded a partnership between a consortium of universities and dental manufacturer SDI with $3 million in funding to develop a dental composite without using mercury.

Dental amalgams, made from mercury and a mixture of metal alloys, are commonly used to fill cavities caused by tooth decay. Although mercury is widely known to be toxic, industry and researchers have yet been able to create a substitute material that matches the properties of traditional amalgams.

The project will utilise miniature glass fibres in a resin to match the properties of an amalgam.

The current funding comes out of the Cooperative Research Centres Projects (CRC-P) program, and extends work already done through an Australian Research Council linkage grant. CRC-P funding will enable the project to be commercialised by SDI along with the support of its research partners at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), the University of Sydney, and the University of Wollongong

The project hopes to discover techniques for the commercial production of the fibre-reinforced resin for Australian use and export to overseas markets.

“We can make sure that because of the new product and the new development there will be opportunity for new employment. SDI can hire a new bunch of people so that their business grows and they can have that footprint in the world market,” said Gangadhara Prusty, professor of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering at UNSW and academic lead for the project.

Due to the novelty of the material and its application, a significant hurdle for the project is to upscale the material from the laboratory, where it is produced in by number of grams, to SDI’s manufacturing facility. With the current global desire to move away from amalgams to fill dental cavities, the demand for an alternative could be great, and the team are seeking to find a way to meet that need.

“The requirement will be for thousands of syringes, so the process has to be upscaled. So, as part of this three-year-long CRC-P project we will enable SDI to upskill their product manufacturing. We are adapting the laboratory scale to industrial scale manufacturing,” said Prusty.

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