Dental Fillings May Soon be History

Chinese scientists may have found a way to regrow tooth enamel.

Sep 12, 2019

Bones can heal themselves. Other hard substances like tooth enamel are lacking this ability. But now, scientists have found a way to help our bodies grow back tooth enamel and that could make dental fillings history.

A research team from China's Zhejiang University created a gel that causes tooth enamel to repair itself, they wrote in the August issue of Science Advances.

Enamel is the hard surface that covers out teeth – it is the hardest substance in the human body –  and it has a complicated structure that according to the researchers has never been able to be duplicated artificially.

Once enamel is formed, it lacks the ability to self-repair; something the scientists believe they have overcome. 

The researchers said they created tiny clusters of calcium phosphate (the main component of tooth enamel) with a diameter of just 1.5 nanometers. It was prepared with another substance to keep it from clumping. 

They tested the gel on damaged human teeth that have been removed from dental patients and kept them in a solution that resembled the environment of the mouth.

The result was applied to the human teeth and scientists said that the gel enabled the tooth enamel to repair itself in just two days.

This is a vital discovery because tooth decay is very common and a chronic disease. The 2016 Global Burdon of Disease Study estimated that half of the world's population have dental decay in permanent teeth. That translates to 2.4 billion people. Plus an additional 486 million children have decay in baby teeth.

The current methods for dealing with tooth decay today include cleaning out the decay and filling the tooth with resin, metal alloys, amalgam, and ceramics. “The resin-based material still cannot adhere well on enamel, and they will get loose after around five years,” said Dr Zhaoming Liu, from Zhejiang University and co-author of the research.

The only drawback that the researchers found is that the layer of enamel that was formed is only about three micrometers which is much thinner than natural enamel. This will have to be scaled before it can be used by dentists on cavities.

“After intensive discussion with dentists, we believe that this new method can be widely used in future,” said Liu.

The gel is being tested on mice and the scientists hope to begin testing in people at a later time. The time of drill-free and pain-free dentistry could soon become a reality. Dentists may have to permanently retire their drills.

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BONNIE RIVA RAS, EDITOR & WRITER
Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.