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  • Writer's pictureDr Gautam Herle

Science restoring enamel in teeth is great news…if you’re a mouse

There was an item in the media recently which seemed to get a lot of attention.

“Scientists from China have invented a gel that contains mineral clusters naturally found in teeth,” the piece said. “In partially acid-damaged teeth, the gel stimulates crystal regrowth to restore tooth enamel back to its original structure.”

This is a particularly impressive scientific development. No wonder it got people’s attention. The story continues…

“While the method is yet to be tested on people, one day this could mean saying goodbye to painful needles, the dreaded dentist drill, and even fillings.”

As a dentist, seeing this kind of finding would – under normal circumstances – fill me with trepidation. My career’s in jeopardy! What ever shall I do now?

But then, cooler heads prevail.

I’m particularly fond of any piece touting a scientific breakthrough that contains a combination of the words, “one day this could mean…”, a sentence that could theoretically be completed with literally any combination of words.

The central thesis of the piece was that scientists had found a way to restore the lost enamel in teeth. Which is excellent news … if you’re a mouse.

If, on the other hand, you’re human – and I presume you are – there’s still going to be a bit of time before tooth enamel for anyone who isn’t Mickey Mouse can be repaired in the same way. Also worth noting is the fact that this study has only been performed on extracted teeth, which is of little use to you if you currently like using your teeth for, say, chewing. Or smiling.

Tooth enamel is the ‘front line’ of your teeth, the layer which cops the brunt of abuse doled out by food and drinks. It protects your teeth from the erosion that comes from eating food and is a protective layer that shields you from the pain of having your nerves exposed.

If there is an erosion of this enamel, the teeth are less protected and become more susceptible to cavities, which often require dental assistance and intervention, including fillings. Protecting your tooth enamel is a very important, if not vital part of your dental hygiene regimen.

As a dentist, I see a lot of these kinds of stories floating around, and much of my time speaking with my patients is taken up by conversations around so-called cures and curative measures that they’ve read about online or heard spoken of on radio or TV. A lot of the time it’s as if people seem delighted to have heard about these emerging scientific so-called breakthroughs because it means they’ll no longer have to take as much care or caution with their teeth.

That’s the thing about clichés – they’re often based in a lot of truth. My approach to dental care is that you want to get into good habits early and think about what you want your teeth to look like in years to come.

Once my eyes stop rolling into the back of my head, I take a calmer, more considered approach to the conversation. It may be a cliché, but it’s true: prevention is better than a cure.

Think about it: would you be less inclined to cover your mouth and nose when you sneezed, just because a story emerged where scientists were making breakthroughs in curing the common cold? Surely, you’d rather just not get a cold in the first place?

Prevention, again, is much better than a cure.

That’s the thing about clichés – they’re often based in a lot of truth. My approach to dental care is that you want to get into good habits early and think about what you want your teeth to look like in years to come. Rather than having a whole measure of bad eating, drinking and dental hygiene habits, it’s just easier, cheaper, better for you and way, way smarter that you just adopt good habits instead.

Take simple, healthy action that prevents teeth enamel from being damaged or lost, and you don’t have to put your faith in some miracle cure to repair something which needn’t have been damaged in the first place. You’ve heard it before because it’s true and it works: eat less sugary food and drinks, floss every day before brushing; brush with quality implements and ensure you see a dentist regularly to formulate a long-term plan for your teeth’s wellbeing.

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