Abstract This study has examined the use of polyvinylphosphonic acid (PVPA) as a potential matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) inhibitor and how brief cross-linking of demineralized dentin matrix that did not affect its mechanical properties enhanced the anti-MMP activity of PVPA. The anti-MMP potential of five PVPA concentrations (100–3000 μg ml –1) was initially screened using a rhMMP-9 colorimetic assay. Demineralized dentin beams were treated with the same five concentrations of PVPA to collagen and then aged for 30 days in a calcium- and zinc-containing medium. The changes in modulus of elasticity, loss of dry mass and dissolution of collagen peptides were measured via three-point bending, precision weighing and hydroxyproline assay, respectively. All tested PVPA concentrations were highly effective ( P < 0.05) in inhibiting MMP-9. Ageing in the incubation medium did not significantly alter the modulus of elasticity of the five PVPA treatment groups. Conversely, aged dentin beams from the control group exhibited a significant decline in their modulus of elasticity ( P < 0.05) over time. Mass loss from the dentin beams and the corresponding increase in hydroxyproline in the medium in the five PVPA treatment groups were significantly lower than for the control ( P < 0.05). PVPA is a potent inhibitor of endogenous MMP activities in demineralized dentin. It may be used as an alternative to chlorhexidine to prevent collagen degradation within hybrid layers to extend the longevity of resin–dentin bonds.