Researchers at the University of Leeds have discovered a pain-free way of tackling early dental decay that reverses the damage of acid attack and re-builds teeth as new. The pioneering treatment promises to transform the approach to filling early cavities in teeth forever.
Tooth decay begins when acid produced by bacteria in plaque dissolves the mineral in the teeth, causing microscopic holes or ‘pores’ to form. As the decay process progresses these micro-pores increase in size and number. Eventually, the damaged tooth may have to be drilled and filled to prevent a toothache, or even removed. The very thought of drilling puts many people off going to see their dentist, whether or not they actually need treatment. This tendency to miss check-ups and ignore niggling aches and pains means that existing problems get worse and early signs of decay in teeth are overlooked.
It’s a vicious cycle, but one that can be broken, according to researchers at the University of Leeds who have developed a revolutionary new way to treat the first signs of tooth decay. Their solution is to arm dentists with a peptide-based fluid that is literally painted onto the tooth’s surface. The peptide technology is based on knowledge of how the tooth forms in the first place and stimulates regeneration of the tooth defect. This is essentially helping acid-damaged teeth to regenerate themselves. It is a totally natural non-surgical repair process and is entirely pain-free.
The ‘magic’ fluid was designed by researchers in the University of Leeds, it contains a peptide known as P 11-4 that – under certain conditions – will assemble together into fibres. In practice, this means that when applied to the tooth, the fluid seeps into the micro-pores caused by acid attack and then spontaneously forms a gel. This gel then provides a ‘scaffold’ or framework that attracts calcium and regenerates the tooth’s mineral from within, providing a natural and pain-free repair.
The technique was recently taken out of the laboratory and tested on a small group of adults whose dentist had spotted the initial signs of tooth decay. The results from this small trial have shown that P 11-4 can indeed reverse the damage and regenerate the tooth tissue. If these results can be repeated on a larger patient group, then in two to three years time this technique will be available for dentists to use in their daily practice.
The main reason that people don’t go to the dentist regularly is fear. If we can offer a treatment that is completely non-invasive, that doesn’t involve a mechanical drill, then we can change that perceived link between dental treatment and pain. This really is more than filling without drilling; this is a novel approach that enables the patients to keep their natural teeth.
Over and over we have been promised techniques that will allow us to carry out pain-free procedures and fillings but so far none have really hit the mark. My feeling is this will be a very useful product as it is based on how nature works and regenerates structure but don’t get too excited as it will not be able to replace the dental drill completely. For larger cavities, replacement of existing fillings, crowns and bridges and root canal the traditional approach will continue to be the only technique available for some time to come.