Great news for those of us who dread the annual or bi-annual visit to the dentist!
Scientists are working on a device for a tooth decay treatment that would fix cavities without the need for drilling and fillings. The technique, developed at King’s College, London, reverses decay by encouraging teeth to repair themselves naturally.
The new treatment, called Electrically Accelerated and Enhanced Remineralisation (EAER), involves an electric current that spurs decayed teeth to repair themselves.
Electric currents are in fact already used by dentists to check the pulp or nerve of a tooth.
This new two-step process first prepares the damaged area of enamel (hmmm, does that still involve drilling?), before using a tiny electric current to push calcium and phosphate minerals into the damaged tooth.
As Professor Nigel Pitts, from King’s College London Dental Institute, pointed 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. Not only is our device kinder to the patient and better for their teeth, but it’s expected to be at least as cost-effective as current dental treatments.”
Presumably then, we can expect that this new treatment won’t have to be repeated every few years. That’s a relief.
The device can also be used to whiten teeth.
Progress has been swift, since the King’s College London Dental Innovation and Translation Centre was only set up in January, with the goal of taking novel technologies and turning them into new products and practices.
That said, it’s likely that it will take at least three years for Reminova, a company set up to commercialize the research, to be ready with its product.
How far dentistry has come!
The earliest known history of treating teeth problems goes back to 7000 BCE in the Indus Valley (present-day Pakistan, Afghanistan and India), where they apparently used bow drills to deal with bad teeth.
Jump forward to the Middle Ages, and we find barbers, not dentists, using forceps to extract a tooth from the mouth. Ouch! These hair cutters began using a “Dental Pelican” in the 14th century and then a “Dental Key” to extract teeth from their patients’ mouths.
However, it was a 17th century French doctor, Pierre Fauchard, known as “The Father of Modern Dentistry,” who was the brains behind many of the procedures still used in today’s society. He came up with the idea of dental fillings, and he also helped to explain that acids from sugar are a major source of tooth decay.
The world’s first dental college, the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery, was opened in 1840. It was not until 1873 that Colgate mass-produced the first toothpaste in a jar, followed in 1885 by the first toothbrush mass produced in the U.S.
However, it was a while before the idea of daily teeth brushing took hold; according to Kevin Starr writing in “Americans and the Californian Dream,” the writer Jack London did not begin brushing his teeth until he was 17-years-old, something that caused him agonies of pain as he got older — and he was by no means unique in his dental habits.
In fact, most Americans did not begin brushing their teeth regularly until after World War II, when soldiers stationed abroad brought the concept of good dental health back to the U.S.
Regardless of massive improvements in dental health, around 2.3 billion people are believed to suffer from tooth decay every year, making it one of the most common preventable diseases in the world.
There are many reasons for this, but for those of us who put off that dreaded visit to the dentist for fear of the pain involved, there is new hope.
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