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Researchers at China’s Zhejiang University and Jiujiang Research Institute have created a gel that permits tooth enamel to repair itself. This is an exciting breakthrough. Someday this development may totally eliminate the need for traditional drilling and filling of tooth cavities.
Like Scales of a Fish
The enamel that covers our teeth is the hardest substance of the body. Yet, as strong as it is, the bacteria in our mouths can produce an acid even stronger. This can pit, etch and erode the surfaces of our teeth producing tooth caries, or more commonly, cavities. Mature enamel is acellular. That means it’s not made of cells that grow by division like the other tissues in our body. Plus, tooth enamel has a complex, interwoven structure that resembles the scales of a fish. While others have attempted to remineralise enamel, no one has been able to duplicate this unique scale-like patterning. Until now.
Can a Tooth Self-Repair?
Because tooth enamel is so unique, filling the area removed due to decay has been challenging. Amalgam, ceramic, porcelain and composite resins have been the most successful. However, these are not ideal for permanent repair simply because they are foreign materials. They often don’t bind seamlessly to the tooth surface. Sometimes they become loose. The breakthrough discovered by the Chinese researchers is a gel. It’s made of the same calcium and phosphate combination which are the building blocks of natural enamel. Would applying this formula encourage the teeth to self-repair? Yes. But…
400 Times Thinner
The gel they tested was applied to human teeth that had been extracted. For 48 hours they etched the teeth with acid—similar to what can happen in our mouths. Then they stimulated the growth of new enamel by applying the gel. Microscopy revealed the good news. They saw a highly-ordered arrangement of calcium and phosphate crystals—with the fish scale-like structure of naturally-occuring enamel. Just one little problem. The new enamel was about 400 times thinner than healthy, naturally-occuring enamel. So there is more work to be done. The next step? Testing has begun on mice. Are the chemicals in the gel safe? Will new enamel form even as people eat and drink and live their lives? Will it put an end to the various materials used to replace decayed enamel? Stay tuned.