Scientists have developed a method for filling cavities by mimicking nature.
The sound of the dentist’s drill could be a thing of the past with news that scientists have created a way to fix tooth cavities without the need for painful fillings.
Researchers at the University of Washington have developed a method for treating cavities that involves rebuilding the tooth’s protective enamel layer. It makes use of short chains of amino acids, called peptides, which can build new mineral layers – effectively patching up broken teeth.
The research, published in ACS Biomaterials Science and Engineering, saw the team applying specially designed peptides to artificially created dental lesions in a lab. They found that the substance healed the artificial cavity, reminersalising the tooth enamel. Lead author of the study, professor of materials science Mehmet Sarikaya, describes this as a “healthy alternative to current dental health care”.
When a tooth is growing in the gum, a type of cell called an ameloblast secretes amelogenin proteins, which form an enamel crown. When the tooth emerges, however, the ameloblasts die off – meaning we’re left with a protective layer that’s unable to heal itself, but is nevertheless worn away by eating certain foods.
“Bacteria metabolise sugar and other fermentable carbohydrates in oral environments and acid, as a by-product, will demineralise the dental enamel,” notes co-author Sami Dogan.
If a cavity forms in the tooth’s enamel, a dentist normally needs to step in and patch the hole with a dental filling. The new treatment, however, mimics the actions of ameloblast to form a new mineral layer to damaged enamel without the need for any drilling.
(illustration of peptide-guided biomimetic tooth repair technology. Credit: ACS Publications)
At the heart of the novel technique are amelogenin-derived peptides, which led to 10-50 micrometers of new enamel to form on the teeth after each application. “These peptides are proven to bind onto tooth surfaces and recruit calcium and phosphate ions,” says Deniz Yucesoy, a co-author of the study.
The technique is only applicable for enamel cavities, not deeper damage to the tooth’s dentine layer. All the same, it could signal a much less invasive way to treat teeth lesions.
While the lab tests were a success, further research will be needed to gauge whether the peptide solution works well on living teeth. If it does, the researchers believe the peptides could be added to toothpaste as a preventative measure – healing teeth even before a cavity forms.