Third generation dentist Nathan Cochrane has made a breakthrough that would have amazed his great grandfather – a way to make decayed tooth enamel re-grow, reversing tooth decay and avoiding the need for fillings.
The treatment works while you sleep by delivering to the affected tooth a powerful solution of calcium, fluoride and phosphate, the building blocks of tooth enamel. The tooth absorbs the solution from a small tray fitted into the mouth overnight.
"The localised application of the mineral treatment re-grows the crystals of the tooth, repairing damaged tooth enamel," said Dr Cochrane, of the Cooperative Research Centre for Oral Health Science. He outlined the system at the Pathfinders: the Innovators Conference at the National Convention Centre in Canberra on 26 May.
"Working as a dentist I see how teeth with fillings in them often weaken," he said. "I wanted to find out whether a chemical process could be used to replace the minerals lost from teeth through decay."
Working with world renowned tooth remineralisation expert, Professor Eric Reynolds, and colleagues at the CRC, Dr Cochrane discovered that a substance isolated from cow’s milk could be used to stabilise the calcium, phosphate and fluoride ions, allowing them to diffuse into tooth enamel and embed themselves in the crystal lattice.
To prevent saliva from diluting the mineral solution, he developed a small tray that fits over the tooth and focuses the solution on it. The device has been patented.
"Dentists who have patients showing signs of early decay will be able to prescribe the nightly use of the remineralisation treatment for a given period, potentially avoiding treatments such as fillings and extractions," said Dr Cochrane.
Dr Cochrane’s great-grandfather, an engineer who later trained as a dentist, would have been astounded by the treatment pioneered by the dentist-turned-scientist.
Dr Cochrane was one of eight early career scientists invited to present their research results at the Pathfinders Conference, organised by the Cooperative Research Centres Association. The CRCA represents Australia’s 50 CRCs operating under a federal government program to drive public/private sector research.
(Source: Cooperative Research Centres of Australia : Pathfinders: the Innovators Conference, Canberra. : May 2009)