For over a hundred years, dentists have been repairing cavities by removing the decayed tooth tissue with a drill and filling the hole with metal or plastic material. Depending on the cavity’s depth, this method can be unpleasant to downright painful for the patient, and it has to be repeated periodically.
“You're really in that cycle of repair and replacement for the rest of the tooth's life,” said Rebecca Moazzea, senior lecturer at King's College in London.
A damaged tooth’s enamel can be replaced naturally, but the process is too slow to stop the work of bacteria that build up in tiny cracks. Now, a British company called Reminova has developed a method for speeding up this natural remineralization of early-stage cavities.
“We've just found a way to make that a much faster process," said Jeff Wright, Reminova's chief executive officer. "Driving healthy calcium and phosphate minerals into your enamel, and through a natural process, it will bind on and add to the enamel that's there."
Here's how it works: After cleaning the early-stage cavity with a method that does not require drilling, the dentist covers it with a mineral solution and applies an electrical current that is too weak for the patient to feel. The deposited mineral quickly hardens, completely filling the cavity.
Researchers say this method could be especially useful for children.
“If children have a better experience of going to the dentist, so they haven't had necessary drilling and injections for routine fillings, then they'll be much more positive in later life and probably become much more regular patients," said Dr. Barry Quinn, a consultant at King's College.
Dentists point out that the new method is most efficient on early-stage cavities, which makes regular dental checkups essential. The whole treatment lasts about as long as a regular drill-and-fill procedure.
Researchers say they are confident that the new method can be further developed for treating later-stage cavities. And they remind us that regular brushing with fluoride toothpaste helps prevent cavities in the first place.