Other approaches use the cells that are in our teeth to heal cavities that have already penetrated the enamel, by stimulating the creation of dentin, the calcified tissue that makes up the inner portion of our teeth. Recent research published in the journal Science Translational Medicine for example, found that treating exposed tooth pulp in rats with low-power laser light before filling the cavity could induce stem cells to create dentin in the tooth.
In another approach, researchers from the University of Nottingham and Harvard University are developing a therapeutic biomaterial that can work to heal a cavity, and intervene before a root canal is necessary. The material can stimulate a particular type of stem cells in the pulp tissue to interact with other material that forms a new kind of dentin-producing cell.
“This material can be injected in contact with pulp tissue and hardened with UV light to form a plastic,” says Adam Celiz, a postdoctoral fellow that is working on its development. “The native cells interact with the plastic and differentiate into a different kind of cell that produces dentin. So we’re hoping to restore that dentin layer to return vitality to the tooth, which means the pulp tissue wouldn’t have to be removed by a root canal.”
Prevention is key
Of course, dentists will tell you that preventing cavities from forming in the first place is the key to your dental longevity, starting with good oral hygiene—brushing twice a day with fluoridated toothpaste, flossing once a day and making regular trips to the dentist – and eating the right kind of foods.
“The most important food and thing for us to keep in mind in terms of prevention is water – especially fluoridated water,” says Sahota. “Not only does the fluoride help mineralise and regenerate tooth structures that may have become infected by a cavity, the physical motion of drinking water helps to flush away food, bacteria and any debris that may be stuck in your teeth as well.” She adds that dairy is also great because it’s high in calcium and that lean protein helps strengthen and rebuild enamel.
Even if we can rebuild this material in our mouths, we still have to fend off a modern menace in our industrialised diets – refined sugar. That’s because bacteria secrete acid when it breaks sugar down, and that acid can cause decay in our teeth.
So what type of candy is best avoided? Sahota says hard candies like lollipops are especially bad since they give you a constant exposure to sugar, while sticky candies get stuck in your teeth for long periods of time.
At least she has good news for the chocoholics among us. “Chocolate after lunch or dinner is a better choice than a lot of other candy because it can get flushed out more easily. So go ahead and enjoy a bite after your meal.”
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