Remember when it was such a huge technological advance to have porcelain dental fillings over the metal fillings? It was so nice to be able to explain to patients that if they got fillings, no one would be able to tell due to the porcelain composite. New research suggests that future dental fillings will not only fight the cavity-causing bacteria, but they will also stimulate the growth of tooth tissue.
“Tooth decay means that the mineral content in the tooth has been dissolved by the organic acids secreted by bacteria residing in biofilms or plaques on the tooth surface,” says Huakun Xu, PhD, MS, director of the Division of Biomaterials and Tissue Engineering in the University of Maryland School of Dentistry’s Department of Endodontics, Prosthodontics and Operative Dentistry. “These organisms convert carbohydrates to acids that decrease the minerals in the tooth structure.”
When a dentist drills out a cavity, the main purpose is to remove all of the harmful bacteria that caused the decay, but drilling isn’t able to tackle it all. Xu’s nanotech fillings, however, will be able to do just that.
The composites and the adhesive primer used to attach the fillings contain antibacterial agents. This way, when they are sealed to the drilled tooth with the antibacterial adhesive, the agents can go to town clearing out the unwanted residents. In addition, the composite and adhesive contain calcium phosphate nanoparticles that actually regenerate tooth tissue. As a result, the research team estimates that these fillings should last longer than the usual 5-10 years. They have yet to actually test the life of these composites, but they are optimistic.
When will these miracle fillings be released into the wild? Thus far, the research has been confined to the laboratory, but they are making steps toward animal teeth testing and human volunteers. In other words, it will be a few years before dentists will have this option at their disposal. Nevertheless, it’s still very exciting to have this technology looming on the horizon.