Date of Award

Winter 10-28-2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

DScD (Doctor of Science in Dentistry)

Primary Advisor

Dr. Hyun (Michel) Koo, DDS, PhD


Biofilms are surface-attached bacterial communities embedded within an extracellular matrix that create localized and protected microenvironments. Acidogenic oral biofilms can demineralize the enamel-apatite on teeth, causing dental caries (tooth decay). Current antimicrobials have low efficacy and do not target the protective matrix and acidic pH within the biofilm. Recently, catalytic nanoparticles were shown to disrupt biofilms but lacked a stabilizing coating required for clinical applications. Here, we report dextran-coated iron oxide nanoparticles termed nanozymes (Dex-NZM) that display strong catalytic (peroxidase-like) activity at acidic pH values, target biofilms with high specificity, and prevent severe caries without impacting surrounding oral tissues in vivo. Nanoparticle formulations were synthesized with dextran coatings (molecular weights from 1.5 to 40 kDa were used), and their catalytic performance and bioactivity were assessed. We found that 10 kDa dextran coating provided maximal catalytic activity, biofilm uptake, and antibiofilm properties. Surprisingly, dextran coating also enhanced selectivity toward biofilms while avoiding binding to gingival cells. Mechanistic studies indicated that iron oxide cores were the source of catalytic activity, whereas dextran on the nanoparticle surface provided stability without blocking catalysis. Dextran-coating facilitated NZM incorporation into exopolysaccharides (EPS) structure and binding within biofilms, which activated hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) for localized bacterial killing and EPS-matrix breakdown. In combination with low concentration of H2O2, Dex-NZM inhibited biofilm accumulation on natural teeth in a human-derived ex vivo biofilm model, and prevented acid damage of the mineralized tissue. Furthermore, Dex-NZM/H2O2 treatment significantly reduced the onset and severity of caries lesions (vs control or either Dex-NZM or H2O2 alone) without adverse effects on gingival tissues or oral microbiota diversity in vivo. Therefore, dextran-coated nanozymes have potential as an alternative treatment of a prevalent and costly biofilm-induced oral disease.