Dental phobia is incredibly common, partly due to the drilling and associated pain. However, new research led by Nigel Pitts of King’s College London Dental Innovation and Translation Centre uses electrical pulses to encourage teeth to regrow themselves. The researchers believe this technique could be available for clinical use within three years.
Before physical cavities show up, tooth decay goes in stages. While minerals naturally cycle in and out of teeth, deficits can compromise the integrity of the enamel, eventually leading to possible cavities and further decay. Traditionally, dentists will drill into the decayed area, remove the unhealthy material, and fill it back in with a composite resin or amalgam to protect the tooth. Silver amalgam fillings typically last longer than resin, though resin looks more like natural tooth, forcing the patient to make a cosmetic decision.
Pitts and his team have developed a new technique they have dubbed Electrically Accelerated and Enhanced Remineralization (EAER). As the name implies, a small electrical current allows calcium and phosphate to remineralize the tooth, protecting against decay. This technique has been long-sought after by dentists, as it allows the body to repair itself without drills, anxiety, or pain. The team is currently seeking private investors to help bring this device to market within the next three years.
“The way we treat teeth today is not ideal – when we repair a tooth by putting in a filling, that tooth enters a cycle of drilling and re-filling as, ultimately, each “repair” fails,” Pitts said in a press release. “Not only is our device kinder to the patient and better for their teeth, but it’s expected to be at least as cost-effective as current dental treatments. Along with fighting tooth decay, our device can also be used to whiten teeth.”
Last month, a team from Harvard’s Wyss Institute announced a laser treatment that encourages stem cells to differentiate into dentin, the layer of tooth underneath the enamel, over the course of about 12 weeks. Though this technique is still in its early stages, repairing lost enamel is critical to ensuring the regrown dentin stays healthy. The cells that create enamel die off shortly after the tooth is formed, though it can wear down or become damaged through injury, putting the tooth at risk for decay.
It is estimated that over 2.3 billion people face some level of tooth decay each year. It is widely believed that modern diets are expediting tooth decay, as acidic foods and drinks like citrus and soda erode enamel. Increased amounts of carbohydrates and refined sugars have also been identified as culprits in influencing the mouth’s microbiota, leaving people more prone to developing decay.