ADAF Paffenbarger Research Center – Where many new ideas for dentistry start

For more than 80 years, ADA Foundation’s Paffenbarger Research Center (PRC) has played a key role in dentistry—identifying the needs of dental practitioners and translating those needs into improved products. Every time you pick up a front-surface dental mirror or high-speed handpiece or place a composite restoration or dental sealant, you are taking advantage of advances developed by scientists at PRC.

„Technological breakthroughs at PRC have created the tools that make modern dentistry possible,“ says Dr. Daniel Meyer, senior vice president, American Dental Association (ADA) Science/ Professional Affairs. „Projects that are currently under way will help revolutionize how dental diseases are treated in the future.“

Figure 1
Dr. George Paffenbarger

PRC was established in 1928 as the Research Unit of the ADA to collaborate with the National Bureau of Standards (now called the National Institute of Standards and Technology [NIST]) to develop science-based specifications for dental products. In 1929, Dr. George Paffenbarger joined the scientists at the Research Unit and rapidly became the unit’s lead scientist. Under his guidance, the Research Unit continued developing standards to ensure that products perform predictably, safely and effectively. He also expanded the scope of Research Unit projects to further advances in dental materials, equipment and therapies. In 1985, the ADA renamed the Research Unit in Dr. Paffenbarger’s honor.

Thanks to his vision, PRC research has resulted in technologies that are hallmarks in dentistry:

– high-speed handpieces
– rhodium-coated front-surface dental mirrors
– panoramic radiography
– dental sealants
– orthodontic bracket bonding
– tooth-colored resin-based composite restorative materials
– dental bonding adhesives
– calcium phosphate remineralization.

In addition, scientists at PRC developed the first calcium-phosphate bone cements whose use in humans was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. More recent developments have included amorphous calcium phosphate, which is effective in treating sensitive teeth, and remineralizing pulp-capping therapies. More than 200 products on the market are based on PRC patents. Royalties from patents are a significant source of revenue for the ADA Foundation, amounting to $5.5 million during the past six years.

Today, the PRC has a staff of 27 people who work at the NIST campus in Gaithersburg, Md. The scientists at PRC continue to collaborate with NIST researchers on dental product specifications, as well as new technologies, creating a robust research environment that has an international reputation for excellence. The presence of well-equipped laboratories and highly skilled researchers is invaluable to practicing dentists when they need timely answers to critical questions.

For example, earlier this year media reports raised concerns about lead in crowns. As soon as the issue emerged, PRC scientists obtained porcelain powders from standard commercial sources and finished crowns produced by both domestic and foreign dental laboratories. After storing the samples in an acidic solution, scientists detected no lead in the solution, indicating that lead does not leach from fired porcelain-fused-to-metal crowns. During the process, PRC scientists developed new test methods that will be useful when questions such as this arise in the future. PRC researchers also are looking into other high-profile issues such as the risk of developing dental erosion from sports drinks and the bioavailability of any bisphenol A that might be present in dental materials.

Other PRC projects in the pipeline that promise important rewards for the dental profession include

– analysis of aerosol production during restorative procedures or use of ultrasonic scalers and production of ultrafine particles during finishing and polishing of resin-based composites;
cariostatic delivery devices (chewing gum, cements, fluoride therapies);
– amorphous calcium phosphate–containing composites that can remineralize tooth structure;
dental materials that are indistinguishable from tooth structure;
– tissue engineering scaffolds for bone repair.

For more information about PRC and its current research projects, visit „www.ada.org/goto/prc„.

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