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A little something for the pain

Scientists find a way that could help regenerate tooth enamel

Dental cavities are a leading source of pain. Photo: Shutterstock.com

Dental cavities are a leading source of pain. Photo: Shutterstock.com

Dental cavities might be miniscule in size – yet in terms of pain, they punch well above their weight as a tiny cavity can trigger, excuse the pun, tooth-grinding agony.

That pain might soon be subsiding as researchers at Queen Mary University of London earlier this month reported that they have developed a material which could help regenerate tooth enamel – and prevent tooth decay or sensitivity in the future. This new way to grow mineralised material could pave the way for regenerating hard tissues such as enamel and bone.

Enamel is the hardest tissue in the body – coating the outer part of the teeth, it can resist extreme temperatures and acidic food and drinks, helping it last for decades.

But unlike other tissues in the body, once it is lost it cannot regrow – leading to pain and tooth loss for around 50 per cent of the world’s population.

“This is exciting because the simplicity and versatility of the mineralisation platform opens up opportunities to treat and regenerate dental tissues, Sherif Elsharkawy, a dentist and first author of the study, said.

“For example, we could develop acid-resistant bandages that can infiltrate, mineralise  and shield exposed dentinal tubules [microscopic channels] in human teeth for the treatment of hypersensitivity.”

Josette Camilleri, a professor familiar with the research being carried out at Queen Mary University, has been studying materials used for regenerative dentistry for years.

This is all very exciting

The problem is complex, she says, because enamel – one of three hard tissues that make up teeth – is unique. To date, the dental pulp has been regenerated but not the hard tissues.

“I have been working on bioactive materials for over a decade,”  Camilleri, an expert in biomaterials, says.

The team at Queen Mary University found a protein that is able to trigger the growth of crystals, in a similar way to how crystals grow when dental enamel develops in the body.

According to lead author  Alvaro Mata, the ‘key discovery’ had been finding a way to exploit proteins to control and guide the process of mineralisation.

“Through this, we have developed a technique to easily grow synthetic materials that emulate such hierarchically-organised architecture over large areas and with the capacity to tune their properties,” he believes.

“To date, we have treated dental decay by filling the holes created with inert materials,” explains Camilleri.

“Now we are looking at developing interactive materials that biomodulate the dental pulp responses and thus control the synthesis of new dental tissues. 

“This is all very exciting and something to look forward to in the future.”

Of course, prevention is always better than cure. Dental decay is caused by inadequate diet and poor oral hygiene. It is mandatory to maintain good oral health and avoid eating cariogenic foods. Regular visits to the dentist are important to help prevent the disease and treat any carious lesions early. 

The experts believe their work, published in science journal Nature Communications has the potential to be used in a variety of ways in regenerative medicine. 

Protection

Here are some recommendations to take care of enamel:

▪ Risk of enamel erosion increases with frequency of acid exposure.

▪ To avoid enamel erosion consider reducing the frequency of consumption of acidic food and drinks.

▪ Rinse your mouth with a glass of water after consuming acidic foods and drinks – this helps to re-establish the natural pH of your mouth and reduce the risk of acid erosion.

▪ Avoid brushing teeth with a hard toothbrush and do not brush immediately after consuming acidic foods or drinks.

▪ Have regular dental check-ups and talk to a dentist about any concern.

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