Nanoparticles for endodontic disinfection

  • Anil Kishen
  • Annie Shrestha
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Endodontics


Newer disinfection strategies in endodontics are aimed to eliminate biofilm bacteria not only from the main canals but also from the uninstrumented portions and anatomical complexities of the root canal system without inducing untoward effects on periradicular tissue. Nanoparticles derived from bioactive materials have the ability to mediate targeted antibacterial efficacy while sparing the mammalian cells. The aim of this article is to provide a concise review of their use in root canal treatment.


Nanoparticles Disinfection Medication Antibacterial Chitosan 

Quick reference/description

Endodontic therapy treats a complex tissue system consisting of the tooth–pulp–periradicular complex. Complete elimination of bacteria is difficult as significantly high number of bacteria exist within the uninstrumented areas of root canals such as isthmuses and lateral canals.

Nanoparticles (NPs) are microscopic particles with one or more dimensions in the range of 1–100 nm. NPs have a broad spectrum of antimicrobial activity and lesser propensity to induce microbial resistance when compared to antibiotics. Antibacterial NP-based treatment can improve the antibacterial/antibiofilm efficacy.


  • Root canal disinfection

  • Root canal sealing


NPs hold a significant potential for eliminating endodontic biofilms. Based on composition, NPs can be classified as (Table 1).
Table 1

Classification of nanoparticles

Nanoparticles based on composition




Quantum dots


Zinc oxide

Iron oxide

Titanium dioxide

Cerium oxide

Aluminum oxide








Cadmium sulfide

Cadmium selenide






Different NPs are being developed and tested for achieving effective root canal disinfection. Based on the spectrum of action and their biocompatible properties, selective NPs are of interest for future clinical application.

Chitosan nanoparticles

Chitosan (CS) [poly (1, 4), β-d glucopyranosamine] is a derivative of chitin. It can be synthesized in various forms such as powder (micro- and NPs), capsules, films, scaffolds, hydrogels, beads, and bandages.

They have excellent antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties. Gram-positive bacteria are more susceptible than Gram-negative ones.

The electrostatic attraction of positively charged CS with the negatively charged bacterial cell membranes leads to altered cell wall permeability. This results in rupture of cells and leakage of the proteinaceous and other intracellular components leading to cell death. (Fig. 1).
Fig. 1

Schematic diagram illustrating the antibacterial mechanism of nanoparticles with positive charge (e.g., CS). Mature bacterial biofilm consisting of abundant exopolysaccharide (EPS) and bacteria enclosed. When cationic nanoparticles are introduced for treatment of biofilms, it can interact with both EPS and bacterial cells. The initial electrostatic interaction between positively charged nanoparticles and negatively charged bacterial surface. Bacterial killing occurs upon contact-mediated lipid peroxidation via production of reactive oxygen species (ROS). The membrane damage and increased permeability of unstable membrane eventually lead to ingress of nanoparticles into the cytoplasm and release of cytoplasmic constituents. EPS secreted by bacteria in biofilm may interact with the nanoparticles and prevent from interacting with bacteria and thus reducing the antibacterial efficacy

They are also used to reinforce collagen matrices.

Advantages of CS include:
  • It is nontoxic towards mammalian cells.

  • Color compatible to tooth structure.

  • Cost effective.

  • Availability.

  • Ease of chemical modification.

Bioactive glass nanoparticles (BAG)

BAG consists of silicon dioxide (SiO2), sodium oxide (Na2O), calcium dioxide (CaO2), and phosphorus pentoxide (P2O5) at different concentrations. It is amorphous in nature.

The antibacterial mechanism of BAG is due to:
  • High pH increase in pH due to release of ions in an aqueous environment.

  • Osmotic effects increase in osmotic pressure above 1% is inhibitory for many bacteria.

  • Calcium/phosphorus precipitation induced mineralization on the bacterial surface.

Silver nanoparticles

The antibacterial property of silver is due to its interaction with the sulfhydryl groups of proteins and DNA, altering the hydrogen bonding/respiratory chain, unwinding of DNA, and interference with cell wall synthesis/cell division.

Silver NPs destabilize the bacterial membrane and increase permeability leading to leakage of cell constituents.


The newer disinfection strategies aim at overcoming the shortcomings of current strategies by eliminating biofilm bacteria not only from the main canals but also from the uninstrumented portions and anatomical complexities of the root canal system. These new strategies include:
  • NP incorporated root canal sealers,

  • NP functionalization for improved antibacterial efficacy,

  • NP modification for antimicrobial photodynamic therapy (PDT).

Nanoparticle-incorporated root canal sealers

Addition of antibacterial NPs in root canal sealer improves the direct and diffusible antibacterial effects of the root canal sealers.

CS NPs reduce the adherence of E. faecalis to root canal dentin.

Quaternary ammonium polyethylenimine NPs can also be utilized to improve the antibacterial efficacy of various root canal sealers and temporary restorative materials.

It exerts bactericidal effects by adsorption and penetration through the bacterial cell wall. Then, they interact with the protein and fat layer in the cell membrane blocking the exchange of essential ions.

BAG NPs promote closure of the interfacial gap between the root canal walls and core filling materials.

Nanoparticle functionalization

Tailoring of NPs via functionalization modifies the NPs chemically.

The therapeutic agents can be delivered to the site of infection to selectively interact with (and penetrate) the biofilm and bacteria.

NP functionalization can result in higher drug efficacy as more active bioactive molecules can be loaded onto one NP.

In a functionalized NP, the NP matrix usually forms the core substrate (Fig. 2) and can be used as a convenient surface for molecular assembly. It may be composed of inorganic or polymeric materials.
Fig. 2

Surface modification or functionalization of nanoparticles through non-covalent, covalent, and encapsulation approaches

The core particle is often protected by several monolayers of inert material. The same layer might act as a biocompatible material.

However, more often, an additional layer of linker molecules is required to proceed with further functionalization. This linear linker molecule has reactive groups at both ends.

One group is aimed at attaching the linker to the NP surface, and the other is used to bind various moieties like biocompatibles (dextran), antibodies, fluorophores, etc., depending on the function required by the application.

Nanoparticle modification for antimicrobial photodynamic therapy

NP-based photosensitizers increase the antimicrobial efficacy of PDT. NPs envelope the bacterial cells with higher concentration on the bacterial cell walls.

Combination of NPs with photosensitizers can be achieved by:
  • Photosensitizers supplemented with NPs.

  • Photosensitizers encapsulated within NPs.

  • Photosensitizers bound or loaded to NPs.

  • NPs themselves serving as photosensitizers.

Cationic methylene blue-loaded poly(lactic-co-glycolic) acid NPs have the potential to be used as carriers of photosensitizer PDT within root canals. Anionic Rose Bengal conjugated CS NPs (CSRBnp) have been developed that showed significantly better properties as compared to either agent alone. It exhibits significantly higher bacterial phototoxicity in both planktonic and biofilm phases.

Improved antimicrobial efficacy can be attributed to:

High concentration of photosensitizers per mass with resultant production of ROS;

Reduced efflux of photosensitizers from the target cell, thereby decreasing the possibility of drug resistance;

Possibility of targeting the bacteria due to greater interaction associated with the surface charge;

Greater stability of photosensitizers after conjugation;

Reduced physical quenching effect;

Controlled release of ROS following photoactivation is possible.

Pitfalls and complications

  • Risk of silver toxicity.

  • More a medicament than an irrigant.

  • Use of silver NPs can lead to browning/blackening of dentin and toxicity toward mammalian cells.

  • Photosensitizers that are conjugated with different readily available synthetic polymers and liposomes possess limited biocompatibility when applied in vivo.

Further reading

  1. 1.
    Kishen A (ed) Nanoparticles for endodontic disinfection. In: Nanotechnology in endodontics: current and potential clinical applications.
  2. 2.
    Prevention CfDCa. Antibiotic resistance threats in the United States 2013Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Abbott PV (2012) Endodontics—current and future. J Conserv Dent 15:202–205CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Chernousova S, Epple M (2013) Silver as antibacterial agent: ion, nanoparticle, and metal. Angew Chem 52:1636–1653CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Kishen A (2010) Advanced therapeutic options for endodontic biofilms. Endod Top 22:99–123CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of DentistryUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada

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