Tooth enamel, the outer part of the teeth, is the hardest tissue in the body. It enables our teeth to function for a large part of our life despite biting forces, exposure to acidic foods and drinks, and extreme temperatures.
However, unlike other tissues of the body, this tooth coating cannot regenerate once it is lost, which can lead to pain and tooth loss. That is what we believed for so long and this is why there is no such medicine for regrowing teeth — only methods like root canal and crowning to protect teeth.
Now, a new study claims that new materials can be created with remarkable precision and order to look and behave just like the aforementioned tooth protector.
The remarkable performance is a result of the tooth enamel’s highly organised structure.
The problem of the white tissue’s decay affects more than 50 per cent of the world’s population, and so, finding ways to recreate the substance has long been a major need in dentistry.
How tooth enamel regeneration takes place
The study was published in the journal Nature Communications and claims that these materials could also be used for a wide variety of dental complications such as the prevention and treatment of tooth decay or tooth sensitivity — also known as dentin hypersensitivity.
Sherif Elsharkawy, one of the researchers of the tooth enamel regeneration study from Queen Mary University, UK, said:
This is exciting because the simplicity and versatility of the mineralisation platform opens up opportunities to treat and regenerate dental tissues
- Tooth enamel regeneration is achieved by this mineralisation process that helps to create materials that can behave like the enamel itself
Explaining the benefits of the process further, Elsharkawy said: “For example, we could develop acid resistant bandages that can infiltrate, mineralise, and shield exposed dentinal tubules of human teeth for the treatment of dentin hypersensitivity.”
How the mechanism of regenerating tooth enamel was developed
The mechanism that has been developed by these researchers is based on a specific protein material that is able to trigger and guide the growth of apatite (a calcium phosphate) nanocrystals at multiple scales — which is similar to how these crystals grow when tooth enamel develops in our body.
Scope of the tooth enamel regeneration process
1. Apart from curing dental problems, “the key discovery has been the possibility to exploit disordered proteins to control and guide the process of mineralisation at multiple scales,” said Alvaro Mata, another researcher of the study from the same university.
2. The researchers spanned the scope of materials science by learning from natural processes and developing useful materials based on the precise control of molecular building-blocks — which, in this case, are teeth.
3. Getting control over the mineralisation process opens up the possibility to create more such hierarchically organised materials that mimic different hard tissues apart from the tooth enamel, such as bone and dentin.