New Filling Could End Need to Drill Teeth


The buzz of the drill, the smell of burning teeth—not a pleasant thought. Wouldn’t it be great if the dentist didn’t need to drill your teeth when you needed fillings? A new biomaterial that can be inserted into tooth cavities may someday eliminate the need to drill and fill teeth.

Every year, countless numbers of people have their teeth drilled and filled and they undergo root canal therapy in order to save their teeth. Although these procedures are largely successful, researchers have wondered whether it might not be better to remove the decayed portion of the tooth and replace it with healthy tissue that can grow and restore the tooth.

Scientists in France tested their idea using a version of a substance known to regenerate bone, called MSH (melanocyte-stimulating hormone). They used the version, called PGA-a-MSH, on cultures of human dental pulp cells that produce the collagen and other materials that form the structure of new tissue.


Their efforts showed that PGA-a-MSH had “potential effects in promoting human pulp fibroblast adhesion and cell proliferation.” In other words, the tooth filling material (a gel) stuck and promoted cell growth. When the scientists examined the new tissue using atomic force microscopy, they discovered an increase in roughness and thickness that was consistent with an “increase of the proliferation of the cells growing on the surface of these architectures.”

Co-author Dr. Nadia Benkirane-Jessel, a scientist at the Institut National de la Sante et de la Rrecherche Medicale Faculty of Medicine in Strasbourg, France, and her colleagues also tested the new material on cavities in the teeth of mice, and within one month the cavities had disappeared.

Benkirane-Jessel explained that the purpose of the new gel would be to control cavities that had already developed, not to prevent cavities from happening. Inserting the gel into tooth cavities would promote regeneration of the tooth, thus eliminating the need to drill and fill the tooth. Preventing cavities, however, is still in the hands of patients, who need to brush and floss daily.

Fioretti F et al. American Chemical Society Nano 2010 4(6): 3277-87