Dental fillings may soon be a thing of the past and the end of fillings could be on the horizon. Thanks to the latest breakthrough from Chinese scientists to successfully grow back tooth enamel.
Enamel is a mineralized substance that protects the surface of teeth. It is the hardest tissue in our body which cannot repair itself. Enamel is a highly complicated structure with enamel rods interwoven with inter-rods, in a fish scale pattern. It is formed biologically, but once mature, it becomes acellular and is devoid of the ability to self-repair, making it prone to degradation causing cavities and eventually needing fillings or a tooth extraction.
While enamel is very hard, it is very susceptible to erosion. When we get acid in our mouth, the minerals in our saliva tries to bind to it to neutralize the acid and prevent it from causing harm. If there’s too much acid or the quality and quantity of our saliva is inadequate, the minerals in our teeth get dissolve into our saliva. This is when our teeth erode and become vulnerable.
Currently, there has nothing been done for repairing damaged teeth apart from fillings or crowns. Resins and ceramics are used to fill in the deteriorated enamel, but these fillings can often become loose within just a few years of their placement.
Until now, reproducing the toughened tissue is a daunting task because of its complex cellular structure. The researchers at the Zhejiang University School of Medicine in Hangzhou, China, have found that mixing calcium and phosphate ions, which are both found in enamel, creates a gel like structure that causes enamel to grow with the same structure as in teeth. The gel helped to create a new layer of enamel about 3 micrometers thick and 400 times thinner than the undamaged enamel.
The researching team is now planning to test their technique in the complex biological environment of the human mouth. They are making plans to launch clinical trials in the coming one or two years. While the method is yet to be tested on people, one day this could mean saying goodbye to painful needles, the dreaded dentist drill and even fillings.
Not only might it be possible to use the gel for the repairing of decayed parts of a tooth, but it could be a preventative technique used to regenerate the protective enamel so decay is never again a problem.