A few years ago, scientists were beginning to find the right solutions of chemicals to rebuild decayed teeth. Instead of the usual patching, re-patching, patching all over again of holes, they have uncovered tooth regeneration.
The materials that make teeth strong, enamel and dentin, would replace the gold or ceramic fillings on teeth. Enamel and dentin are remarkably strong and long-lasting, and they can repair themselves. The goal was to catch decaying teeth early and “remineralize” them. Dentists have been fixing cavities with metal fillings since the 1840s. The outer covering of teeth is enamel. The body makes it by growing tiny mineral crystals in a highly regular crystal lattice. Underneath that ceramic-like covering, dentin is like hard clay reinforced by fibers of collagen. But teeth, because they are made from minerals, are susceptible to decay.
Acids “demineralize” the enamel of the teeth. Usually the body is constantly repairing small amounts of damage but when the body’s defenses become overwhelmed, bacteria break through into the dentin below. Thus the tooth decay, commonly called a cavity. Cavities are bacteria and pus-filled holes on or in teeth which can lead to discomfort, extreme and intolerable pain and eventually, tooth loss. When people eat acidic foods, consume sugary snacks or simply don’t maintain proper oral hygiene, bacteria begin to digaway at the protective enamel and other minerals inside teeth. The causes of cavities are varied. But for most cavities, the treatment is the same: drilling into a tooth, removing the decay and filling in the hole to prevent further damage. The acid produced by the bacteria eats into the minerals in the dentin, turning it mushy and useless. Normal dentin is twice as stiff as pinewood, but damaged dentin is more like rubber, which makes it pretty hard to chew with.
In 2008, Sally Marshall, a professor at the University of California at San Francisco, made a study on tooth regeneration. Marshall’s work, which was accepted for publication in the Journal of Structural Biology, focuses on regrowing dentin in damaged teeth with the help of a calcium-containing solution of ions (electrically charged particles). By putting a layer of the solution on individual test teeth, Marshall has already been able to remineralize some parts of the teeth. The challenge is to get the crystals to regrow throughout the dentin. To heal properly, the crystals need to form from the bottom of the tooth up to the enamel.
The video below is a concept of how teeth regeneration occurs in nature, in this experiment it’s on mice. Hopefully, research could go on the distance and can be applied, later, to humans.