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The Dentist’s Drill May Soon Become Obsolete


[DIGEST: Engadget, Telegraph, Medical Daily, Newsweek, NYT]

Few look forward to the dentist’s chair. And if you have a cavity, that visit could involve a needle in the gum and cheek followed by some uncomfortable drilling. A competent dentist could treat your cavity, but the filling — white, silver or expensive gold — will remain, or at least until it needs to be replaced, and the process starts all over again.

What if we could actually heal the tooth–painlessly? In the future, that may be possible.

Researchers at King’s College London have developed a technique called Electrically Accelerated and Enhanced Remineralization that does just that. A device called a “healing hand piece” is placed over the cavity and emits a small electrical current that promotes the remineralization of the tooth, driving calcium, phosphate, and other substances back into the enamel. The process costs the same as a filling, and can also be used to whiten teeth.

“The way we treat teeth today is not ideal. When we repair a tooth by putting in a filling, that tooth enters a cycle of drilling and re-filling as, ultimately, each ‘repair’ fails,” said Dr. Nigel Pitts, from King’s College London’s Dental Institute.

A Scottish company called Reminova Ltd is trying to bring the technology to the marketplace, and believes with adequate funding the process could be available to consumers within three years. (In the U.S., due to the different regulatory environment, that timeline may be longer.) This could mean the end of the traditional drill-and-fill.

Root canals, too, could someday be a distant memory. Researchers at the University of Nottingham and Harvard University have developed a type of dental filling that encourages tooth regrowth. This filling is installed in the traditional manner, via drilling. However, once it’s in the tooth, it stimulates stem cells to encourage the growth of new dentin, the material that makes up the tooth. This could prevent the decay from spreading, which in some cases

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