BY: PHILIPPE DE JOCAS
Who here actually likes getting a cavity? Few things are worse than the first twinges of pain that will alert you to the fact that something’s out of whack. Then there’s the trip to the dentist – a gruelling affair where you’ll be poked and prodded, jabbed and stabbed, by sharp metal instruments that wouldn’t be out of place in a medieval apothecary. Who wouldn’t want to find a way to circumvent this once and for all?
In 2017, cavities might become a thing of the past. For those of you who missed out on watching Timmy the Tooth as a kid, let me remind you how cavities are formed. When you forget to brush or floss (and let’s be honest, we’ve all had days when we forget to do that), oral bacteria that accumulates in our mouths from eating food begin to multiply and eat away at the hard internal dentine that protects our teeth from undue wear and tear. Even just thinking about it is enough to give you the crawlies.
The main problem with fighting cavities is that, for most of our history, it’s been a one-way kind of deal. Once the bacteria start munching on your teeth, you can only halt the infection. Worse still, the cement and silicon elements within fillings don’t always play well with our biochemistries; healthy mineral layers within the tooth are entirely thrown out of balance. While the body’s natural self-repair mechanisms can mobilize stem cells to create a thin layer of new dentine around the cavity, there’s been no way to completely regrow the dentine that fills the inside of your teeth once it’s gone.
Researchers at King’s College London have discovered a new drug treatment for cavities that stems from the unlikeliest of sources—experimental Alzheimer’s medication. The drug Tideglusib, outside of sounding like a credenza from IKEA, fights Alzheimer’s by reducing the rate of neuron decay, impeding the gradual loss of cognitive functions that is Alzheimer’s best known symptom. Experiments on mice involved soaking tiny biodegradable sponges in Tideglusib and inserting them into cavities. Within six weeks, Tideglusib made rotten teeth of lab mice whole again; the drug stimulated the development of fresh dentine and the body naturally filled in its own cavities. At present, scientists have only experimented on rodents, so whether or not this drug will work on the bigger teeth of humans remains a matter of debate and extensive testing.
Dentists and scientists around the world hope that the effects of introducing Tideglusib into the dental arsenal will be twofold. Not only will dentists no longer need to carry out long and laborious filling operations, but oral hygiene experts also hope that the continuing trend towards non-invasive and less threatening procedures will have a positive psychological effect on the “dental-phobic”, those of us with a completely irrational fear of having strangers drill holes in our teeth. But even if this impressive piece of science works as intended, your dentist will probably still remind you to brush (and floss) regularly.