One of the most common problems with restorative dental fillings today is something called secondary tooth decay. Secondary tooth decay occurs when decay forms around and underneath an existing filling, at the margin where the filling meets the healthy tooth. According to data from a recent study by Tel Aviv University, secondary tooth decay affects upwards of 100 million people per year, costing them over $30 billion. Secondary tooth decay is one of the top reasons for fillings failing, and if left untreated it could lead to a crown, root canal or extracted tooth.
But imagine getting a cavity filled and not having to worry about tooth decay forming around or underneath the filling. Is that even possible? The researchers at Tel Aviv University think so. That’s because they have developed a new filling that has antibacterial properties, which would prevent or reduce the risk of secondary tooth decay without requiring any further intervention. The compound is what is known as a self-assembling building block called Fmoc-pentafluoro-L-phenylalanine. When incorporated with dental composites, this new building block provides not just antibacterial properties, but is strong and durable enough to work as a restorative filling.
Dr. Kelley Mingus is a dentist in Bend, Oregon. He says the discovery by the Tel Aviv University has the potential to save a lot of teeth, and maybe even a few lives.
"This new type of filling could really change oral health for the better," says Mingus. "It would reduce the risk of secondary tooth decay, but also looks natural like the current resin fillings do."
According to researchers, part of the problem with current fillings is they allow bacteria between the filling and the teeth, something that happened less frequently with the metal fillings of the past.
"Metal amalgam fillings fell out of popularity because of their color and because many people were concerned about their mercury content," says Mingus. "So in recent years not only has resin become more popular as a restorative, but many people are also swapping out old metal fillings for resin."
Though resin is still safe and effective, Mingus says he hopes the new antibacterial composites will be available soon.
As for just how well the antibacterial properties of the new building block work, researchers at Tel Aviv University say they are now working on ways to use it in other medical supplies, like tissue scaffolds and wound dressings.