Science

Scientists discover way to ‘regrow’ tooth enamel

Scientists have developed a special gel that can make the tooth enamel repair itself. This innovative product could save people from developing cavities requiring dental fillings.

Enamel is the hard, protective layer covering each tooth. It gets worn down by mouth acid and repeated chewing, creating cavities that have to be plugged with fillings to prevent further decay. As these fillings are made from foreign materials like metal, porcelain and resin, they don’t seamlessly bind to the tooth surface and every so often become loose.

To overcome this problem and to try to encourage teeth to self-repair, Ruikang Tang at Zhejiang University in China and his colleagues have developed a gel comprising calcium and phosphate which are the building blocks of real enamel. They tested this gel by applying it on human teeth already removed from patients due to acid damage. They left the gel-treated teeth in containers of fluid that mimic the mouth environment for 48 hours.

During this period, the gel stimulated the growth of new enamel and microscopy revealed that it had the highly ordered arrangement of calcium and phosphate crystals identical to regular enamel.

Tang explained that this is probably because, in normal tooth development, the developing enamel is coated in a disordered layer of calcium and phosphate particles just like in the gel, that encourages its growth.

The new enamel coating was only 3 micrometers thick making it about 400 times thinner than undamaged enamel. But Tang believes the gel could be repeatedly applied to build up this restored layer.

Other scientific groups have tried to repair tooth enamel with similar calcium and phosphate mixtures, but according to Tang, they contained larger particle clusters that didn’t cling well to the surface of the tooth and made it difficult for the enamel crystals to re-build.

Tang’s team is now testing the gel in mice and hopes to subsequently test it in people. Tang added that they need to ensure that the chemicals in the gel are safe for human consumption and that new enamel can actually form in the real-life mouth environment, even when people eat and drink.

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