Fillings without drillings? Alternative to dentist's drill `could be available by 2013'

New plasma brush `painlessly does the work of a dentist's drill in under 30 seconds'

The days of anxiously listening to the sound of a dentist’s drill in the waiting room could soon be over – American researchers are confident that a noiseless, painless alternative to this instrument of fear could be available as early as 2013.

The ‘non-thermal argon plasma brush’ might be quite a mouthful to say but it could have enormous benefits for the health of teeth.

When a patient has a cavity, dentists normally use a drill to prepare the teeth for the filling.  Root canal treatment maybe need to repair and save a tooth that is badly decayed. In some situations repeated filling can damage the tooth beyond repair; the only option then is to pull the tooth.

Dr Glafcos Tombolis of Putney dentist Ethicare said: “The answer to the question of whether a tooth can withstand another filling depends on how much of the tooth structure remains. You can’t just leave bacteria to develop in a tooth but the more of a tooth which is made up of a filling then the greater the likelihood of that tooth being lost.”

This is an issue which researchers at the University of Missouri involved with developing the new plasma brush have been keen to address. They believe that their invention can use plasma to provide teeth with a longer-lasting bonding material, one which is “60 per cent stronger” than current fillings. This, the scientists insist, could reduce the number of teeth which are lost as a result of repeat fillings.

So what does the brush look like? If you click on this University of Missouri link you can see that the device resembles a large marker pen; its tip glowing a turquoise colour as it makes contact with the teeth.

Andrew Ritts, a senior scientist with Nanova, Inc, the company which is helping develop the new technology, can be seen happily testing the brush on video footage contained on the university’s website.

He said: “You shouldn’t feel anything. It should feel like cold air being blown on you. Often I will put my hands under the brush’s flame and it will feel cool compared to my hand temperature.” 

The brush cleans the bacteria on a damaged tooth by accelerating ions which bombard the bacteria cell wall and break it, causing the bacteria to die.

The scientists involved in the research are confident that this won’t damage the bulk tooth though they concede that a drill might still need to be used to “assist in the filling process”.

With lab trials having been completed, the next phase of research will concentrate on further human trials with all involved in the trials hopeful that the plasma brush could be made available to dentists by 2013.

If you can’t wait until 2013 to improve your dental health then there is some other good news you might be interested in. Research conducted by the Israel Institute of Technology, which was published in January 2012, suggests that green tea – which was first consumed in China 4,000 years ago – can help destroy harmful bacteria in the mouth; guarding against bad breath and improving oral health.

It seems that bacteria in mouths is currently facing attack from both modern technology and ancient drinks!