Today, when you have a cavity, the dentist will drill the decay out of your tooth, then fill it in with amalgam or composite resin. Could there ever be a point in time, though, when your tooth can essentially fix itself?
According to researchers working at King’s College London, such a future is not only possible, but potentially available as a treatment option within three years. Their technology is known as Electrically Accelerated and Enhanced Remineralization, or EAER. The process speeds up the movement of phosphate and calcium into the damaged tooth.
As Professor Nigel Pitts, who works with the school’s dental institute, points out, “The way we treat teeth today is not ideal. When we repair a tooth by putting in a filling, that tooth enters a cycle of drilling and refilling as, ultimately, each ‘repair’ fails.” This innovative solution would not only be better for teeth, but it will be as cost-effective as current treatments, according to Pitts.
Considering that about 2.3 billion people are estimated to be suffering from tooth decay every year, the technology could have important implications for improving patient health. It’s worth noting that people with teeth or implants live seven to 10 years longer, on average, than those who are missing teeth. Cavities begin with small defects in tooth enamel which allow minerals to seep out. The EAER treatment helps to treat cavities by preparing damaged enamel, and then using tiny, directed electronic currents to draw in the missing minerals.
Though this treatment can be used on various stages of tooth decay, it is unlikely to work for teeth that are experiencing advanced decay. “What it won’t do is physically regrow a tooth,” Pitts explains. Interestingly, researchers at Harvard came up with a similar technology earlier this year — they have been using laser lights to trigger teeth into creating new dentin.