Drug Helps Teeth Repair Themselves

02 April, 2017

I am going to take a chance and say that very few people enjoy going to the dentist, especially for a filling.

A dentist usually treat a cavity by removing the damaged part of the tooth. Then they fill the hole with porcelain or a combination of silver and other metals.

Oftentimes fillings need replaced during the patient's lifetime. But is filling the cavity with a foreign material really the best treatment? What if the tooth could repair itself with its own material – dentine?

That is what researchers at King's College London are studying. They have found a process that may replace the traditional method.

Let's face it. Nobody likes to go to get a cavity fixed. But there is a new treatment. A drug already on the market helps teeth to regrow naturally. (REUTERS/Phil Noble)
Let's face it. Nobody likes to go to get a cavity fixed. But there is a new treatment. A drug already on the market helps teeth to regrow naturally. (REUTERS/Phil Noble)

Researchers say they may be close to perfecting a method of helping teeth to repair themselves. They say the treatment may make the filling of a cavity a thing of the past.

Paul Sharpe of King's College says a new treatment for cavities is simpler. It uses a drug that causes the tooth to fill in the hole naturally with dentine.

"[It] involves putting a drug on a little sponge that goes inside the tooth, in the hole that the dentist made. It stimulates this natural process, which is starting to occur anyway following the damage, but it over-activates the process so you actually get the big hole repaired and the repair is a production of the natural material, the dentine."

Usually a new drug requires repeated testing before it is approved for treatment. However, this drug that produces the regrowth in teeth has already been approved. It is a drug currently used to treat Alzheimer's disease and other disorders of the nervous system.

Sharpe explains that when using this already-approved drug to repair cavities, researchers use only a small amount and they use it locally. Usually that means the medicine is put directly on the affected area. It does not travel through the patient's blood.

"We are using much smaller doses and we're delivering them locally, just in a tooth."

Nigel Carter heads Britain's Oral Health Foundation. He describes the new treatment as an exciting possibility for dental care. He notes that re-growing a tooth would be a major development. But Carter also has a warning.

"Actually re-growing the tooth that's been lost with a cavity would be really a huge step forward. But, it's also important that we remember that we shouldn't be getting the cavity in the first place. We're talking about a totally preventable disease."

Although the new treatment uses a drug to cause the regrowth, it still requires the dentist to use a power drill.

So, if you don't want to go under the drill, the dentists advise us to keep cleaning those teeth.

I'm Anna Matteo.

Faith Lapidus reported this story for VOA News. Anna Matteo adapted the report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

dentist n. a person whose job is to care for people's teeth

dental adj. of or relating to teeth or to the work dentists do

dentine n. a calcareous material similar to but harder and denser than bone that composes the principal mass of a tooth

cavity n. an area of decay in a tooth

porcelain n. a hard, white substance that is very delicate and that is made by baking clay

sponge n. a piece of light natural or artificial material that becomes soft when it is wet, is able to take in and hold liquid, and is used for washing or cleaning

stimulate v. to make (something) more active

dose n. the amount of a medicine, drug, or vitamin that is taken at one time