Scientists are developing a new technique that allows teeth to repair themselves, eliminating the need for drills, injections and filling materials.
Dentists normally treat established caries in a tooth by drilling to remove the decay and filling the tooth with a material such as amalgam or composite resin.
The innovative treatment by Reminova Ltd, a new spin-out company from King's College London, takes a different approach – one that re-builds the tooth and heals it without the need for drills, needles or amalgam.
By accelerating the natural process by which calcium and phosphate minerals re-enter the tooth to repair a defect, the technique boosts the tooth's natural repair process.
The two-step method developed by Reminova first prepares the damaged part of the enamel outer layer of the tooth, then uses a tiny electric current to 'push' minerals into the tooth to repair the damaged site.
The defect is remineralised in a painless process that requires no drills, no injections and no filling materials.
Electric currents are already used by dentists to check the pulp or nerve of a tooth; the new device uses a far smaller current than that currently used on patients and which cannot be felt by the patient.
The technique, known as Electrically Accelerated and Enhanced Remineralisation (EAER), could be brought to market within three years.
"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 Professor Nigel Pitts from the Dental Institute at King's College London.
"Not only is our device kinder to the patient and better for their teeth, but it's expected to be at least as cost-effective as current dental treatments.
"Along with fighting tooth decay, our device can also be used to whiten teeth," Pitts said.