20th June 2014
New technique allows decayed tooth to repair itself
Reminova Ltd, a new spin-out company from King's College London, has developed a new dental technique that allows a decayed tooth to effectively repair and heal itself without the need for drills, needles or fillings. This breakthrough procedure, which uses electrical stimulation to help teeth "remineralise", could be available as early as 2017.
With 2.3 billion sufferers annually, dental caries is one of the most common preventable diseases globally. Tooth decay normally develops in stages – starting as a microscopic defect where minerals leach out of a tooth. Minerals continue to move in and out of the tooth in a natural cycle, but when too much mineral is lost, the enamel is undermined and the tooth is said to have developed a caries lesion (which can later become a physical cavity). Dentists normally treat caries in a tooth by drilling to remove the decay and then filling the tooth with a material such as amalgam or composite resin.
Reminova Ltd 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 device boosts the tooth's natural repair process. Dentistry has been trying to harness this process for the last few decades, but the new breakthrough by King's means the method could soon be in use at the dentist's chair.
The two-step method developed by Reminova first prepares the damaged part of the enamel outer layer of the tooth. It then uses a tiny electric current to "push" minerals (such as calcium and phosphate) 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 pulp or nerves in a tooth; the new device uses a far smaller current than that currently used on patients and which cannot be felt by the patient. This technique, known as Electrically Accelerated and Enhanced Remineralisation (EAER), could be brought to market later this decade.
Professor Nigel Pitts from the Dental Institute at King's College London said: "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. Not only is our device kinder to the patient and better for their teeth, 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."
Kit Malthouse, Chair of MedCity and London's Deputy Mayor for Business and Enterprise: "It's brilliant to see the really creative research taking place at King's making its way out of the lab so quickly and being turned into a new device that has the potential to make a real difference to the dental health and patient experience of people with tooth decay.
"Increasing the rate at which we can turn great ideas into successful medical and healthcare companies is one of the key aims of MedCity, and will have huge benefits for the UK's health and well-being, as well as its economy."