Medicine

So Long, Fillings! There's A Drug That Might Heal Cavities

News: The Curiosity Podcast is here! Subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play Music, SoundCloud and RSS.

Cavities are no fun. In addition to the scary dentist visit, cavities mean fillings, and fillings stay in your teeth for the rest of your life. That's why this new development is such good news: researchers think they've discovered a drug that will make teeth heal cavities on their own.

Related: Why Do We Have Baby Teeth?

Advertisement

Teaching An Old Drug New Tricks

The coolest part about the discovery is that the drug in question has already been tested in clinical trials to treat Alzheimer's disease. Of course, patients don't just take the drug—they still need to visit the dentist. Here's how it works: when you get a cavity or a broken tooth, the soft pulp inside the tooth can be exposed or infected. When the problem is small enough, the tooth can patch it over with a hard layer of dentine. Bigger cavities, however, are no match for the tooth's self-healing power, and need some extra help. That means dentists have to drill the tooth, remove the infected pulp, and insert a filling—usually a cement made of plastic and silicon.

Related: Getting Your Wisdom Teeth Removed Is Likely A Waste Of Time

In this new treatment, dentists still need to drill and remove any bad pulp. Sorry about that. But instead of filling the remainder with a cement, they fill it with a biodegradable collagen sponge that's been soaked in the Alzheimer drug Tideglusib. In a 2017 study published in Nature, researchers found that after several weeks, that sponge had degraded and new dentin had taken over to fill the space. According to the study, the drug actually stimulates stem cells in the natural tooth, spurring them to make the needed repairs.

Related: The Stinkiest Bacteria In Your Mouth Don't Live On Your Teeth

Why This Is So Much Better

Traditional fillings are generally safe, but they're not ideal. As study author Professor Paul Sharpe told The Guardian, "The tooth is not just a lump of mineral, it's got its own physiology. You're replacing a living tissue with an inert cement." Fillings aren't foolproof, and sometimes they need replacing. When they do, dentists have to drill out even more tooth than they did before. If they do that multiple times, eventually the whole tooth has to be removed.

The process hasn't been tested on humans yet, but because it and the collagen sponge have both been through clinical trials already, there's hope that it can speed through the approval process. If it does, we could someday have a generation of people whose teeth are 100 percent their own.

Is there something you're curious about? Email us at editors (at) curiosity.com. And follow Curiosity on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Love getting smarter? Sign up to our newsletter and get our best content in your inbox!

Watch And Learn: Our Favorite Videos About Teeth

You May Be Able to Repair Cavities Without Getting a Filling

This could be huge.

The Best Way To Whiten Teeth, According To Science

Hear it straight from the dentist's mouth.

Share the knowledge!

What Happens When You Don't Brush Your Teeth?

We hope you're sitting down.

Advertisement