Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Dentistry Without Drills: Paint Your Cavities Away

The New York Times (registration required) reports that Japanese researchers say they have found a way to produce an artificial tooth enamel that is chemically like the real thing.

The discovery, they report in the current issue of Nature, may allow dentists to fill some cavities without using a drill.

Getting even a small filling can be destructive: that high-pitched whine you hear when drill meets tooth is the sound of healthy enamel being pulverized.

Dentists try to damage as little healthy tissue as possible, but even a skilled one has to destroy a large amount of the tooth to create a surface that will bond with the filling.

Dr. Kazue Yamagishi of Tokyo's FAP Dental Institute and colleagues introduced fluorine ions into hydroxyapatite, the crystalline material of enamel, and then dissolved the product in acid to make a paste.

This creates a substance that can be painted on a tooth. After it is applied, the material crystallizes, forming a seamless bond.

Because it contains fluorine, it also offers protection against decay.

The material is highly durable, and although it is also subject to decay, it is somewhat more resistant to acid than natural enamel.

It bonds so perfectly with the natural enamel that even when viewed with an electron microscope there is no apparent gap at the interface between the artificial substances and the actual ones.

So far, the procedure has been used only for cavities that are not large enough to penetrate the one to two millimeters of enamel that cover a normal tooth.

The manufactured material grows crystals perfectly oriented to the tooth surface, essentially becoming an integral part of it.

The paste is whitish, and blends fairly well with the color of teeth, but it probably cannot be dyed to match.

"I could mix something into it to change the color," Dr. Yamagishi said, "but that would cause the crystal to change its structure, so I don't recommend it."

But before the paste is used commercially, Dr. Yamagishi said, "We need to study it more to confirm the safety of the therapy."

The applications of this material in restorative dentistry is virtually unlimited. It could be used for sealants, PRR, direct placement restorations, ceramic/gold/resin cementation.

It really was a matter of time before someone cloned/synthesized a human enamel type substrate.

Wonderful stuff!

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