Friday, November 27, 2009

Radical new technology could end drilling and filling misery at the dentist

Scientists in Britain have developed a mouthwash that allows plaque-causing bacteria to be destroyed using nothing but a bright light, the light could possibly be attached to the head of a toothbrush.

The researchers say they have been experimenting with standard white light such as a conventional security light.

The new technology works in much the same way as some skin cancer treatments and may be available within three years for use at home.

According to the research team at Leeds Dental Institute a “repair solution” to help the body grow new enamel is also being developed which could do away with the need for “drilling and filling”.

The two projects are led by Professor Jennifer Kirkham, who believes they could make a big difference to dental care.

Professor Kirkham says the mouthwash which uses “photodynamic therapy” could help people who find it hard to use a toothbrush and could also be used to treat gum disease which is a major cause of tooth loss.

Antibacterial molecules in the mouthwash are absorbed only by plaque-causing bacteria, and activated when a bright light is shone into the mouth, killing them.

The technique is similar to that used in certain types of skin cancer, where the substance is painted on the target area, taken up by cancer cells, then exposed to light of a certain wavelength, which activates it to kill the cancer cell.

The researchers say though the molecule is considered to be safe for human consumption, full trials have yet to be completed.

Professor Kirkham says the team are looking for safe new ways to control plaque which do not rely on toothpaste as many who are disabled in some way or another are not able to brush effectively.

Researcher Dr Simon Wood says machines offering photodynamic therapy in dental clinics are already in use, but the aim was to find a way the mouthwash could be used at home.

The “repair solution” which is made from a protein which encourages the laying down of new enamel over microscopic holes in teeth, including those caused by acid produced by plaque bacteria.

The solution is painted on the teeth, it enters the holes and creates a scaffold, it then attracts the calcium needed to patch them.

Professor Kirkham says it could help people with early damage which could eventually lead to dental decay, or those who have tiny holes in their teeth which make consuming hot or cold food or drink painful.

The repair solution will not totally eliminate the need for the dentist’s drill as bigger cavities filled with decay would still have to be treated in the conventional manner.

It is hoped that trials will begin next year and a licence for wider use gained within five years.