Eating too many fast foods, sugary snacks and drinks is a major cause of tooth decay. Over the years, dentists removed the decay and replaced the enamel with metals such as gold, metal alloys, ceramic and more recently, special composites which are easier to mould and fit. Of course, fillings often need replacement when they fall out or become damaged.

The biggest problem with tooth decay has been the loss of enamel but now, scientists have found a way to ‘regrow’ human tooth enamel and hope that it will eventually be used in dentistry to repair teeth.

Researchers from China’s Zhejiang University and Xiamen University searched for ways to overcome the problem by finding a way for the tooth to repair itself. They created a gel containing minute cluster of calcium and phosphate, the key components making up natural tooth enamel.

For testing, they layered the gel on crystalline hydroxyapatite which is a substance similar to the enamel in teeth. The gel fused to the crystalline and was then tested on in the laboratory on human teeth. The enamel on the test teeth were damaged with acid and then covered by the gel after which they were placed in conditions simulating the human mouth for 48 hours.

After this short period, a thin layer of an enamel like coating had formed over the treated teeth. The coating was found to be as strong as natural tooth enamel. Under the microscope, the coating had a similar crystalline structure to natural enamel. Study author Ruikang Tang told New Scientist that the gel could be applied repeatedly to build it to the size of the original tooth. Their findings are reported in Science Advances.

“This process may be developed as an effective cure for enamel erosion in clinical practice,” the researchers note.

Researchers now want to test the gel on mice and eventually humans to determine its safety when exposed to the daily grind of human mouths. It will no doubt take a long time for the gel to be available to the general public but hopefully it will transform the treatment of tooth decay.

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