Fillings Without the Drill

By Medical Discovery News

March 10, 2012

Fillings Without the Drill

For people who’d rather bear the pain of a suspected cavity than face the dreaded dental drill, now there’s hope.

Researchers have developed a fluid that, when applied to a cavity, remarkably enabled the tooth to repair itself. Dr. Amalia Aggeli along with Professor Jennifer Kirkham of the University of Leeds in London led the development of this wonder fluid.

Normally, a dentist has to drill into a tooth to remove the decayed areas before filling it. Leaving a cavity untreated would mean a worse toothache and eventually loss of that tooth.

Bacteria in the mouth are what cause tooth decay and cavities. They live in a film called plaque that forms on and around teeth. When these bacteria metabolize starch or sugar, they excrete acids that break down the minerals that make up teeth. These acid attacks can last about 20 minutes after each sugary meal, creating microscopic holes on the tooth surface. Over time, these holes increase in size and number allowing bacteria to work their way through the tooth enamel, invade the softer dentin directly beneath, and then penetrate the pulp which contains the nerve and blood supply of the tooth. This is when a person feels pain, and yet may still avoid going to the dentist.

The treatment out of Leeds would take away that fear. The wonder fluid contains a small protein called P11-4 that can assemble into fibers. When a dentist brushes it onto decaying teeth, it seeps into any microscopic holes, and then turns into a gel. This gel acts as a scaffold that attracts calcium, regenerating the tooth naturally and painlessly.

The Leeds researchers tested their new technique on a small group of adults with initial signs of tooth decay. Remarkably, P 11-4 was able to reverse the damage and regenerate the tooth’s surface. What’s surprising is the researchers are not sure why this treatment works. Scientists have always assumed once teeth erupt from the gums, they lose all ameloblasts, which are cells responsible for the minerals that form teeth. Without these cells, how is the P11-4 gel able to stimulate the natural formation that’s filling and repairing the cavity? For unknown reasons, it seems to work.

Understanding how this gel is able to regenerate teeth could lead to other “natural” approaches to heal decayed teeth. The University of Leeds researchers plan to repeat their study with a much larger group of patients. If the results are as successful as the first clinical trial, P11-4 is likely to be available in dental offices within two to three years.

For the countless patients who suffer because they’re afraid of going to the dentist, this non-invasive, pain-free treatment would be a great emotional and physical relief.

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