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Newly developed liquid mimics tooth enamel, but can’t ‘regrow’ it

“Scientists have developed a gel that can actually regrow tooth enamel,” reads the headline of an article shared on Facebook in South Africa. 

The article says a team of scientists in China have “developed a liquid solution that’s capable of growing back the tough external surface of damaged tooth enamel”.

The liquid contains “a material that mimics the natural mineralisation process of our teeth’s protective outer layer”.

This breakthrough, the article says, could “potentially repair decayed teeth and prevent tooth decay for good”.

This sounds too good to be true. Is it?

‘Smaller than a strand of human DNA’

The article reports on an August 2019 study in the journal Science Advances that found a liquid solution could be used to mimic the development of tooth enamel.

According to the study, this new material can grow seamlessly on human teeth, forming tiny clusters of mineral particles only 1.5 nanometres in diameter – smaller than a strand of human DNA.

When the mixture is applied to people’s teeth, it repairs the enamel layer to around 2.7 micrometres of thickness. It becomes just like natural tooth enamel within 48 hours.

Although other materials, like porcelain-based ceramics, have been developed to restore tooth enamel, the repairs don’t last. This is because of the way foreign materials and tooth enamel combine, the study says.

“This process may be developed as an effective cure for enamel erosion in clinical practice,'' the study authors say. 

‘Real-life mouth environment’ still to be tested

The new enamel coating is only 3 micrometres thick, about 400 times thinner than undamaged enamel. But Ruikang Tang, one of the study authors, told New Scientist the gel could be applied repeatedly to build up a thicker layer.

Tang also said the team still needed to make sure the chemicals in the gel were safe and that the new enamel could “form in the real-life mouth environment, even when people eat and drink”.

Preventing tooth decay still best

An article by the newspaper South China Morning Post says a few drops of the liquid solution can fix all cracks and wear on an ageing molar.

But Haifeng Chen, an associate professor at Peking University’s biomedical engineering department, told the newspaper that despite this research, prevention is always best.

“Prevention is the best approach,” Chen said. “We should never wait until the damage is done. Our teeth are a miracle of nature. Artificial replacement will never do the job as well.” – Taryn Willows


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