Cavities could one day become a thing of the past, as new research is decoding how our mouth bacteria are able to attach their dirty little mounds of plaque to our teeth, and is suggesting ways we might be able to outsmart them.
Cavities come from bacteria that live in our mouths and digest sugars in the food we eat, producing tooth-dissolving acids. The most annoying tooth-bug is Streptococcus mutans, which causes tooth decay. The bacteria use an enzyme called glucansucrase, which converts sugar into long sticky chains that allow the bacteria to glue themselves to the surface teeth. Once they’re in place, they can start in on the acid production.
This could mean an end to fear and loathing at the dentist’s office. A new (allegedly) painless blowtorch-like device is being developed that uses a thin beam of plasma could kill oral bacteria in cavities. A plasma is an ionized gas—one in which some of the electrons are stripped away from their atoms.
The plasma kept the dentin, the fibrous bonelike material that makes up most of a tooth under the outer enamel layer, intact, while reducing bacteria 10,000-fold. This means that plasma jets could be used to wipe out the tooth-decaying bacteria in cavities–a procedure that normally requires the use of a painful dental drill to grind away the infected portion of tooth.
The plasma being used is a “cool” plasma with a temperature of just 100 degrees Fahrenheit. When it fires, it charges the oxygen gas around it, which creates reactive molecules that break down and destroy the bacteria’s cell walls, killing them in the process.
But here’s the bad news: If you have a gnawing cavity right now, there’s no point putting off a visit to the dentist. Researchers say it will take three to five years for the new plasma drill to make it to the dentist’s office.
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Image: Stefan Rupf
Have no fear, the tooth fairy gene is here. Researchers at Oregon State University have found the gene responsible for growing tooth enamel, a discovery that could transform the much-hated trip to the dentist.
So does this new discovery mean an end to fillings and dentures once and for all?
Well not yet, but it might someday. Researchers have known for a while that the gene called Ctip2 plays a role in immune response, as well as skin and nerve development. But this is the first time anyone explored its role in regulating the growth of tooth enamel.