GSDM Professor Wins BU Ignition Award to Aid Project Development on Permanent Tooth Enamel Restoration Process

Yuwei Fan, GSDM research associate professor of restorative sciences & biomaterials, is one of the eight 2023 Boston University Ignition Awards winners, joining a prestigious list of industry changing researchers. (Photo Credit: Dan Bomba, GSDM.)

Tooth enamel plays a critical role in protecting our teeth and gums from decay, periodontitis, and other health issues–so when enamel erodes, it can cause major problems. Current tooth enamel restoration techniques are expensive and invasive–as well as being non-permanent solutions with multiple limitations. Now, GSDM professor Yuwei Fan and his team are one step closer to creating a superior solution that strives to address these restoration issues. 

Fan, GSDM research associate professor of restorative sciences & biomaterials, recently won a Boston University (BU) Ignition Award for his work on a process that utilizes an enamel-mimicking formula directly on the damaged tooth’s surface. He was one of eight winners this year, joining a prestigious list of industry-changing researchers.  

Fan said he was delighted to receive a BU Ignition Award. He and his team have already tested the process in the lab in conditions that simulate the environment of the human mouth, but they will be using the award to move their technology closer to clinical applications. 

“Current solutions, even using the best material we have, may not last forever, or not even over 10 years,” Fan said.   

In the most recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, nearly 90 percent of adults ages 20 to 64 years old were reported to have some amount of tooth decay. Current approaches to enamel restoration have limited ability to be effective for the remainder of a patient’s life, said Fan, because the available mainstream material options are neither structured like enamel nor integrated into the tooth structure. These performance limitations result in patients repeating pricey procedures.  

Fan can’t discuss the specifics of his work, as he and his team are working to secure a patent, but he believes their product could help a huge population who needs a permanent tooth enamel solution.  

“Our vision [is] to restore forever,” Fan said. “Once, and you’re done.” 

Through BU Technology Development, the BU Ignition Award program gives Boston University or Boston Medical Center researchers funds to advance ideas with clear commercial potential.  Award winners also receive specialized coaching and support to bring their inventions to their peak marketable potential, in addition to the financial grant.  

After connecting with industry mentors and taking training programs, Fan said he and his team have been in contact with a target population of dentists who would, in theory, be using the product. He said they will work to adapt the product to best fit the needs of that population.  

“The dentists are the ones who observe the outcome,” Fan said. “If they see there is need, then it’s usable. [We] don’t want its use to be complicated – that’s what we learned from our training.”  

As for the next steps of the project, Fan said they are going to file the patent by the end of 2023. 

“People are living longer than our teeth were designed for,” Fan said. “[With this technology], people will still have their natural teeth in their 90s.”  


By Rachel Grace Philipson