It seems research is intent on putting dentists out of a job. There has been a torrent of inventions that claim to put tooth decay to rest: vaccines for S. mutans, fluoride, super bonding composites, even regrowing teeth in a Petri dish. But none of these seem to really be slowing down the inevitable degradation of teeth.
It is always exciting then to see claims like this one found in a recent news story, “Japan tooth patch could be end of decay.” WOW! All this time we were looking for a cure we should have been considering the Toughskins business model. Researchers at the Kinki University of Biology-Oriented Science and Technology found a way to make a hydroxyapatite film that is only 0.004 mm thick. By firing a laser at compressed blocks of hydroxyapatite in a vacuum, individual particles fall onto a heated block of salt. The apatite particles crystallize, the salt is dissolved away, and what is left is a film made from the stuff teeth are made from.
My favorite quote from the news article was “Dentists used to think an all-apatite sheet was just a dream.” While I had chuckle a bit that my hopes and dreams included hydroxyapatite in sheet form, there were several other questions that were brought up when reading the story.
- Tooth decay is caused by acids from bacteria such as Streptococcus mutans. Tooth structure is primarily composed of hydroxyapatite. The acids remove minerals from the tooth structure, thereby weakening the tooth structure and causing decay. How is this film supposed to “end decay” when it is made from the same susceptible material as the rest of the tooth?
- The sheet has minute holes that allow liquid and air to escape from underneath when applied to the tooth. Wouldn’t those holes work both ways, allowing fluid and air to go the other way?
- The material takes almost 24 hours to adhere to the underlying tooth structure. I cannot wait to tell a patient they have to sit with their mouth open and the suction on full blast for an entire day to let this stuff set up.
- They are looking for ways to make this white to allow this to be used for whitening procedures. Last I checked, our in-office whitening procedure worked pretty darn well, and the patient is not left with a material to maintain.
While this is certainly impressive technology, and while I can assure you these researchers are smarter than I am, I just don’t see this as a practical product to use in dentistry. The best I can say is that it would be nice to use in cases with sensitivity where there is recession with exposed dentin.
But the “end of decay”? Show me the study…