A mineral in bulls' teeth might be a cheap and incredibly strong alternative to synthetic material used for bone grafts, New Zealand researchers believe.
A Otago University team has discovered that a compound in the teeth is stronger than any alternatives on the market.
A material called hydroxyapatite is used at present to fill in gaps in bones before they heal. But the real bovine thing, according to dentistry researcher Dr Jithendra Ratnayake, is 100 times stronger.
Due to the excellent mechanical properties of the product made from the teeth, it would also be able to be used in orthopaedic applications — and potentially it might have other surgical uses as well.
The material was extracted from incisors because the molars were too hard to get out of the jaw.
If a way was found to prise the molars out, it was possible they could be used to create a stronger product again.
One very small block of Geistlich Bio-Oss, the synthetic product currently used, cost about $700.
Dr Ratnayake estimated one bone graft from the bulls' tooth material would be able to be created for $5 or $10.
The next stage would be to test the product on animals, before hopefully carrying out a trial on humans, and eventually he hoped to market it in New Zealand and overseas.
Dr Ratnayake and his team were working on developing both bone graft products at the same time.
Bulls' teeth were a waste product, so did not cost anything — and the procedure of extracting the bovine hydroxyapatite, used to make the grafts, was also very cheap and environmentally friendly, involving water and heat pressure.
"We used a very economical and very simple method, you don't use any chemicals.
"Anyone would be able to do it."