- A new gel could soon eliminate painful fillings and root canals.
- The technology doesn't prevent cavities; it heals teeth by regenerating them.
- Although this is good news for teeth, the research could also be applied to heal bones and other tissues in the body.
Dentists could soon hang up their drills. A new peptide, embedded in a soft gel or a thin, flexible film and placed next to a cavity, encourages cells inside teeth to regenerate in about a month, according to a new study in the journal ACS Nano. This technology is the first of its kind.
The new gel or thin film could eliminate the need to fill painful cavities or drill deep into the root canal of an infected tooth.
"It's not like toothpaste," which prevent cavities, said Nadia Benkirane-Jessel, a scientist at the Institut National de la Sante et de la Recherche Medicale and a co-author of a recent paper. "Here we are really trying to control cavities (after they develop)."
Drilling teeth and filling them is safe and effective. Dentists fill millions of cavities each year across the United States. However, though dentists numb the tooth, many patients still rue the sound of that drill.
The new research could make a trip to the dentist's office more pleasant, said Berkirane-Jessel. Instead of a drill, a quick dab of gel or a thin film against an infected tooth could heal teeth from within.
Cavities are bacteria and pus-filled holes on or in teeth which can lead to discomfort, pain and even tooth loss. When people eat acidic foods, consume sugary snacks or simply don't maintain proper oral hygiene, bacteria begin to eat away at the protective enamel and other minerals inside teeth.
The causes of cavities are varied. But for most cavities, the treatment is the same: drilling into a tooth, removing the decay and filling in the hole to prevent further damage.
The gel or thin film contains a peptide known as MSH, or melanocyte-stimulating hormone. Previous experiments, reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed that MSH encourages bone regeneration.