This Is Not a Drill… Researchers Using Proteins to Treat Cavities

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There’s a new dental product that uses your body’s natural tooth-forming proteins to rebuild tooth enamel to repair cavities.

Why should you care? Well, this process could replace the current method of filling dental cavities… without using a drill.

The product was the subject of a research study that was published recently in the journal ACS Biomaterials Science and Engineering.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cavities are a major public health problem globally and are also the most widespread noncommunicable disease.

Dental cavities can seriously impact quality of life.

Among other things, cavities may make eating painful and disrupt sleep. When they reach an advanced stage (abscess), cavities may even cause chronic systemic infection.

A 2015 study published in the Journal of Dental Research found that cavities affected 2.4 billion people worldwide.

In addition, untreated cavities in baby teeth were the 10th most prevalent condition, affecting more than 600 million children globally.

Untreated, tooth decay will eventually lead to tooth loss.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tooth decay is the most common chronic disease in American children aged 6 to 11. It is also four times more prevalent than asthma in individuals between 14 and 17 years of age.

Dr. Shantanu Lal, director of predoctoral pediatric dentistry and an associate professor of dental medicine at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, told Healthline “Untreated cavities in baby teeth can lead to serious consequences that include pain, learning difficulties, difficulty chewing, poor sleep, missed hours at school, and potentially, life-threatening dental inflammation and infection.”

Bacteria destroy tooth enamel

Many of the foods we eat cause bacteria in the mouth to create acids.

Foods with lots of sugar are well-known sources of plaque, but starches such as bread, crackers, and cereal can also make acids form.

“Bacteria metabolize sugar and other fermentable carbohydrates in oral environments, and acid, as a by-product, will demineralize the dental enamel,” Sami Dogan, a study co-author and associate professor in the Department of Restorative Dentistry at the University of Washington School of Dentistry said in a press release.

Bacteria are also responsible for dental plaque that can irritate the gums, making them red, susceptible to bleeding, sensitive, and subject to gum disease.

Gum disease can cause the gums to recede from teeth, making pockets that fill with the bacteria that cause infection.

Without treatment, bones around the teeth may deteriorate, loosening teeth, and speeding decay.

Healthy alternative

Researchers at the University of Washington School of Dentistry were inspired by how the body’s natural tooth-forming proteins work.

So, they came up with a method to repair damaged tooth enamel. They captured the essence of amelogenin, the protein needed to form crown enamel, and designed amelogenin-derived peptides (part of a cell that carries out important functions) that can repair tooth enamel.

These peptides are the active ingredient in this new treatment. The repair looks just like the mineral structure found in the body’s tooth enamel.

“Remineralization guided by peptides is a healthy alternative to current dental health care,” said Mehmet Sarikaya, a lead study author and professor of materials science and engineering and adjunct professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Department, said in a press release.

The American Dental Association (ADA) states on their website that “The formerly practiced paradigm of ‘drill and fill,’ drilling out pits and fissures or surgically removing decayed and diseased tissue and placing permanent restorations, does not address the full continuum of the caries disease process, including microbial activity and the balance between enamel remineralization and demineralization.”

Still in development

Although it’s still in development, researchers anticipate this new treatment will be used in both public and private health settings.

This treatment could eventually be incorporated into toothpastes, gels, and other dental care products as a safe, healthy alternative to current dental treatments and procedures that can be used by adults and children.

Instead of treating cavities as they appear, this technology may enable people to prevent them by rebuilding and strengthening tooth enamel every day as part of their dental care routine.

However, Lal cautions “Cavities being treated with biogenic approaches would require careful and frequent monitoring by a dental professional and should be validated by clinical trials prior to responsible use in the patient population. Home care should not be recommended until further investigation of all the potential risks of this treatment have been ascertained.”



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