Once tooth enamel is lost, it’s gone forever—or at least, that was the case until now. Scientists in China have developed a liquid solution that can effectively grow back the external surface of damaged tooth enamel, using a material that mimics the natural mineralization process of our teeth’s protective outer layer. In today’s post, our Statesville dentist discusses the significance of this research, and what it means for or oral health and the field of dentistry.
Tooth enamel is the hardest substance in our bodies. It’s formed in a biomineralization process whereby cells, called ameloblasts, secrete proteins that eventually harden into the enamel substance. These ameloblasts only present during tooth development, meaning that once we graduate babyhood, our mature teeth have virtually no natural ability to self-repair. So far, all attempts to replicate ameloblasts and the complex, crystalline structure they create have been unsuccessful.
Researchers at Zhejiang University used a new kind of calcium phosphate ion clusters (CPICs), measuring just 1.5 nanometres in diameter (about one billionth of a metre). The tiny particles were then stabilized in an ethanol solution with a chemical called triethylamine, which prevents them from clumping together. When the resulting gel-like substance was applied to human teeth, the ultra-small clusters successfully fused to the fish-scale-like structure of native enamel. The new “artificial” enamel was equally as durable as the natural tooth enamel.
Although the team’s findings have been reported in a reputable scientific journal, Science Advances, there is a long way to go until the solution can be used in your local dentist office. Firstly, artificial enamel only developed to a thickness of up to 2.8 micrometres, hundreds of times thinner than a full layer of natural tooth enamel. The solution will need to be refined to make it more effective—if not, patients will have to receive hundreds of coatings.
The team also needs to demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that their material is safe – especially since there are concerns about the toxicity of the main stabilizing compound, trimethylamine. According to the team, the trimethylamine chemical evaporates in ethanol during the stabilizing process, and should therefore pose no threat. However, this must be tested and proven in clinical trials.
Between testing, federal approvals, international distribution, and marketing, it will likely be several years before this material finds its way into clinical use at your local dentist, even if future tests indicate it’s both safe and effective. Until such time, conventional advice on dental health remains as sound as ever. Brush and floss your teeth twice a day, every day, and be sure to schedule a dental cleaning and checkup twice a year—because as it stands, your tooth enamel is irreplaceable!
Dr. Robert Schmidt is a Statesville general dentist specializing in crowns, tooth whitening, root canals, and tooth implants. To schedule an appointment at our office, please click here.