There may come a time in the near future when fillings for minor cavities are a thing of the past. Researchers at King's College London are developing a procedure that uses low-frequency electrical currents to help teeth "self-heal" lesions, or cavities, without drilling.
The technology, called "electrically accelerated and enhanced remineralization," could put an end to fillings for early-stage lesions and moderate tooth decay. And eventually it could lead to new treatments for more-advanced decay.
Sounds good, right? There's even better news: This technology could make it to dentists' offices in Britain within three years.
By the time a dentist looks at an X-ray and identifies a cavity, he or she is seeing a tooth after it has lost minerals in the enamel and has started to decay.
Teeth can repair themselves by replacing those minerals with ones found in saliva or fluoride through a natural "remineralization" process. Researchers have been trying to figure out how to enhance that process by making it faster and allowing it to work more deeply in the tooth.
"We in the dental research field have known about remineralization for some time," King's College London Professor Nigel Pitts, a dentist, said in an interview. "People were talking about remineralization in the 1980s, but it's been hard to achieve a viable way that will remineralize established, large lesions in depth."
Pitts said his team's eureka moment came when it began focusing on preparing the tooth by minimizing such barriers to the remineralization process as saliva and tissue. The next step involves using electrical currents to help drive minerals into the tooth.
In theory, a dentist would place on the tooth what Pitts calls a "healing hand piece" that emits an imperceptible electric current that drives minerals back into the tooth.