New Material Enhances Fillings, Rebuilds Teeth
Aug. 27, 2001 -- Coming soon to a dentist's office near you:
'smart' fillings that release cavity-fighting components such as calcium and
"[Smart fillings] look very much like current composites
and match the appearance of [tooth] enamel quite well," says Joseph
Antonucci, PhD, a research chemist at the National Institute of Standards and
Technology in Gaithersburg, Md. "They would act to prevent formation of
secondary or recurrent cavities that can occur on or around conventional
Antonucci presented findings on the new fillings Sunday at the
annual meeting of the American Chemical Society, in Chicago. At that meeting,
he and colleague Drago Skrtic, PhD, a project leader at the American Dental
Association Health Foundation's Paffenbarger Research Center in Gaithersburg,
reported that a substance used for the fillings -- called amorphous calcium
phosphate, or ACP -- grew new mineral in cow teeth.
Antonucci says he expects the filler to be widely available for
dentists in a year or two.
Unlike the ACP fillings, ordinary composite fillings don't
promote remineralization, he says.
"[The new material] can also be used to counteract the
demineralization that occurs when kids have braces attached to teeth,"
Antonucci says. As a powder, "ACP is also used as a desensitizer for teeth
that are sensitive to cold and heat," he says.
The powdered substance is also found in some toothpastes and
Trident Advantage and Trident for Kids chewing gums.
"The benefit from these materials would be a reduction in
future cavities," says Frederick Eichmiller, DDS, director of the American
Dental Association Health Foundation's Paffenbarger Research Center. "These
materials have the potential to prevent new cavities from forming and to repair
early damage that may have already occurred."
It may also be useful in patients that are especially
susceptible to cavities, such as people who have undergone radiation therapy or
chemotherapy, he says.
They are extremely safe, Eichmiller says, the composition is
very similar to existing composites and the added active ingredients are
minerals normally found in teeth, bones, and saliva.
However, studies are needed to see if they are strong enough to
use them in permanent stress-bearing fillings such as the back teeth, he
One general dentist is cautiously optimistic about the new
material. Joseph L. Perno, DDS, past president of the Academy of General
Dentistry and a dentist in private practice in Voorhees, N.J, says he wants to
see long-term studies conducted on actual patients before he is convinced.
"These studies are promising and very optimistic, but I am
a conservative practitioner and am careful when new things come along," he
says. Still, "the philosophy behind this is excellent and the results seem
One concern is cost, Perno says.
"Will it double the cost of the material?" he says.
"Right now composite [white fillings] are more costly than amalgam
fillings, and every time we improve composites, they get more costly."
Amalgams are the silver fillings that are a mixture of mercury
and an alloy of silver, tin, and copper.