It sounds like the stuff that science fiction is made of. A special kind of glass that can heal teeth by replacing some of the valuable minerals that have been lost because of tooth decay. This isn’t science fiction at all though. In fact, studies are underway in an attempt to deliver this kind of technology as soon as possible to safeguard teeth more easily in the future.
What is This “Special” Glass?
Advances in fillings could mean that in a few short years, you — or someone you know — could have an unusual type of glass in their mouths that help them function better orally. According to new research that was recently published in the Dental Materials Journal, Oregon State University (OSU) engineers have made promising strides in helping to extend the life of composite tooth fillings. This is great news as there is an average lifetime of only six years for a posterior dental composite.
Currently, it’s estimated that there are more than 122 million restorations that use composite teeth and that are made for patients in the United States each year. A person — on average — chews with their teeth about 600,000 times per year.
The material that the OSU engineers found that can help extend the life of composite tooth fillings, bioactive glass, is a certain kind of crushed glass. Because of its unique ability to interact positively with the body, it’s been used to heal bones in certain situations for decades, according to Jamie Kruzic who is a professor at OSU’s College of Engineering.
It was also found that the oral bacteria that are known for being the cause of cavities don’t react to this bioactive glass in a way that encourages their growth. Instead, when the bacteria were exposed to fillings that included this bioactive glass, they didn’t grow on it as willingly as they do with other surfaces.
That’s not the only good thing about bioactive glass either. This kind of glass provides valuable minerals that might be able to replace some of those that are lost. This will help the fillings themselves last longer.
What is Bioactive Glass?
Bioactive glass is comprised of compounds that include calcium oxide, phosphorus oxide, and silicon oxide. It looks similar to powdered glass, but it is hard and stiff. Unlike some other biomedical products, the body knows when the bioactive glass is there and can react to it.
As Kruzic noted, nearly all fillings will fail eventually. This is because new tooth decay occurs at the point where the tooth and the filling interface with each other. This is a condition called “secondary tooth decay.”
How Can Bioactive Glass Help?
According to researchers, using bioactive glass could help fillings last longer because the area where the bacteria are penetrating at a depth that is much smaller than composites that don’t have the glass.
While there is still research and testing that must be completed, the use of bioactive glass has promising applications within the dental industry.