A painless alternative to dental drills is already on the market in some parts of Europe, suggesting that drills may become altogether obsolete within the next few years.
Dentists currently use drills to grind away at sections of a tooth where decay-promoting bacteria have taken hold, then patch up these holes with a dental filling. Yet drills can cause mental distress to patients, and also have to remove significant portions of healthy tooth to get at the diseased portion.
Enter the new Icon dental syringe, produced by DMG Dental Products, in conjunction with the University of Kiel, Germany and the Charite Medical University in Berlin. To use the syringe, dentists first place a rubber collar around the diseased tooth to prevent nearby teeth from acid damage. The syringe then applies an acid gel to just the diseased portion of the tooth. Within minutes, the acid has eaten away all the infesting bacteria and is washed off. The tooth is dried with ethanol, and the small hole is patched with a dental resin. A high-energy blue light is then applied to make the resin dry quickly.
According to the manufacturers, the Icon syringe is especially good at treating small caries before they develop into more serious dental problems.
Icon is already on sale in several parts of Europe, and will soon be available in the United Kingdom.
Another technique, currently under development, has been forecast to make dental drills obsolete within three years. In this procedure, dentists use a small, blowtorch-like machine to spray decaying sections of teeth with a high-powered beam of purple plasma (a gas so hot that its electrons have been removed). The plasma is not hot enough to damage the mouth, but effectively disinfects dental caries for filling.
Like Icon, the plasma beam could be used on small cavities and would cause less damage to the structure of the tooth.