Innovation in hydration: Scientists discover revolutionary cure for dry mouth

The University of Leeds has developed a new saliva substitute that is up to five times more effective than existing products. This new technology, which uses microgel and hydrogel components, offers improved moisture retention and comfort for people with dry mouth, promising significant health and quality of life benefits.

Proof of concept of a new material for long-term relief from dry mouth conditions.

New water lubricant technology designed to help people suffering from dry mouth is between four and five times more effective than existing commercially available products, according to laboratory tests.

Developed by scientists at the University of Leeds, the saliva substitute is described as comparable to natural saliva in the way it hydrates the mouth and acts as a lubricant when food is chewed.

Microgel technology explained

Under a powerful microscope, the molecules in a substance known as a microgel look like a grid or sponge-like network that bonds to the surface of the mouth. Around the microgel is a polysaccharide-based hydrogel that retains water. This double function will keep the feeling of hydration in the mouth longer.

Synthetic saliva that uses milk proteins

Lactoferrin, which is a protein found in dark blue colored milk, forms a mesh architecture of hydrated microgel, partially coated with a hydrogel made of polysaccharide-carrageenan, colored light blue. Credits: Dr. Anna Tanczos,

Professor Anvesha Sarkar, who led the development of the saliva substitute, said: Our laboratory benchmarking reveals that this substance will have a longer-lasting effect.

The problem with many existing commercial products is that they are only effective for short periods because they do not bind to the surface of the mouth, with people having to reapply the substance frequently, sometimes while talking or eating.

It affects people’s quality of life.

Study findings and benchmark results

The results of a laboratory evaluation, Benchmarking an Aqueous Microgel-Reinforced Hydrogel Lubricant Against Commercial Saliva Substitutes, were published today (November 20) in the journal Scientific reports.

The performance of a newly developed substance compared to existing products is the result of a process called adsorption. Adsorption is the ability of molecules to bind to something, in this case, the surface of the inside of the mouth.

Synthetic saliva that uses vegan proteins

The potato protein colored in dark green forms a mesh-like hydrated microgel structure, partially coated with a hydrogel made of the polysaccharide xanthan gum, shown in light green. Credits: Dr. Anna Tanczos,

Product variants and efficiency

The new microgel comes in two forms: one made with milk proteins and the other in a vegan version using potato protein.

The new substance was compared with eight commercially available saliva substitutes, including Boots own brand product Biotene; oral; Saliveza; and Glandosane. All benchmarking was done in the lab on an artificial language-like surface and did not involve humans.

Testing revealed that the Leeds product had a lower level of desorption as opposed to adsorption, meaning how much lubricant was lost from the surface of the synthetic tongue.

With commercially available products, between 23% and 58% percent of the lubricant is lost. With the saliva substitute developed in Leeds, the figure was only 7%. The dairy version slightly outperformed the vegan version.

Dr Olivia Pabois, Research Associate at Leeds and first author on the paper, said: The test results provide a strong proof of concept that our material is likely to be more effective in real-world conditions and can provide relief for up to five times longer than existing products.

Benchmarking results show favorable results in three key areas. Our microgel provides high hydration, bonds strongly to the surface of the mouth and is an effective lubricant, making people more comfortable to eat and talk.

The substances used in the production of saliva replacement diary and vegetable protein and carbohydrates are non-toxic to humans and non-caloric.

Although testing of the new product only involved laboratory analysis, the scientific team believes that the results will be replicated in human trials.

The authors of the study want to translate the lubricant technology into commercially available products, in order to improve the quality of life of people with dry mouth problems.

Addressing xerostomia is a widespread health problem

Dry mouth, or xerostomia, to give it its medical name, is a common condition that affects about one in ten residents, and is more prevalent among older people and people who have been treated for cancer or have to take a combination of medications.

In severe cases, dry mouth causes people to have discomfort when swallowing and leads to malnutrition and dental problems, all of which increase the burden on health systems.

Reference: Benchmarking a microgel-reinforced hydrogel-based aqueous lubricant against commercial saliva substitutes by Olivia Pabo, Alejandro Avila-Sierra, Marco Ramajoli, Mingduo Mu, Jasmin Message, Kwan-Mo You, Evangelos Liamas, Ben Du Que, Kalpana Doherty and Anvesha Sarkar November 20, 2023 Scientific reports.
DOI: 10.1038/s41598-023-46108-v

Funding: European Research Council, Michael Beverley Innovation Fellowship, UKRI Northern Triangle Initiative, UKRI Health and Aging Catalyst Award

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