Tooth Pain: New Dental Treatment Could Heal Cavities Without Need for Fillings

Updated | Scientists have developed a new substance to treat dental cavities without making a costly and unpleasant trip to the dentist.

Inspired by the proteins in our bodies which form teeth, the new product uses peptides—which are structurally similar to proteins—to repair the enamel on the part of the tooth which requires treatment.

The team at the University of Washington used peptides derived from a protein called amelogenin, which is vital for forming the hard enamel on teeth, to create the substance which remineralizes tooth enamel.

Researchers tested their peptide substance on dental lesions created artificially in a laboratory. They found that after each application, between 10 to 50 micrometres of new enamel was created. The study was published in the journal ACS Biomaterials Science and Engingeering.

Scientists have created a new substance that could repair teeth without a trip to the dentist. SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Enamel is created in a process called amelogenesis as the tooth grows inside the mouth. However, once a tooth has stopped growing, the ameloblasts, or the cells that make up enamel, die away. And when bacteria in our mouths metabolize sugar and other fermentable carbohydrates, such as from bread and bananas, an acid is created which demineralizes enamel, explained Sami Dogan, co-author of the study at the University of Washington School. This process can be prevented by brushing our teeth with fluoride toothpaste.

The researchers hope that the formulation could one day be sold in over-the-counter products such as toothpaste to prevent and treat tooth decay, or put into clinical products used by dentists.

"Remineralization guided by peptides is a healthy alternative to current dental health care," said Mehmet Sarikaya, lead author of the study and adjunct professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Department of Oral Health Sciences at the University of Washington.

The latest statistics from the National Center for Health Statistics published in 2015 showed that 91 percent of adults aged between 20 to 64-years-old had dental caries, and 27 percent had untreated tooth decay.

Professor Damien Walmsley, the scientific adviser for the British Dental Association, was skeptical about the scope of the new research.

"Regenerative dentistry is an exciting area to research, of which peptide-enabled formulations are a part. However, it's unrealistic to hope that this technology, when it comes to fruition, could ever replace fillings or crowns where there is extensive tooth decay," he told Newsweek. "It's only likely to 'rebuild' enamel in the very early stages of tooth decay or where the teeth are eroded."

He added: "In the meantime one can stop such damage to teeth by reducing sugary snacks to mealtimes, brushing your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and visiting your dentist on a regular basis."

This article was updated with comment from Professor Damien Walmsley.