Thursday, July 06, 2006

Smile, It'll Grow Back

Hockey players, take heart. The day may be coming when the next tooth you break in the heat of battle won't be a permanent loss. According to New Scientist, engineers have created a small brace-like device that fits in the mouth and uses ultrasound to induce regrowth of damaged teeth.

Jie Chen and Ying Tsui, engineers at the University of Alberta in Canada, developed the miniature device after ultrasound stimulation encouraged damaged teeth and jawbone tissue to regrow in animals.

Tarek El-Bialy, who works in Alberta's medical faculty, was able to regrow teeth in rabbits with a larger device, but only when some tooth root remained in place.

Since the method works to regrow teeth when some root remains, I wonder if eventually this could become the standard treatment for tooth decay as well. That would be cool. Imagine, no more fillings that announce to the world just how lazy you were about oral hygiene as a child, and also wear out over time, requiring another round of Novocaine and drilling. Of course, someone is bound to discover that the low-power ultrasound pulses the device sends at the damaged tooth cause some other form of harm to some other part of the body, but that's a trivial matter that I'm sure another brilliant mind will find a way to overcome. In the meantime, hockey players (and maybe even children with a sweet tooth) can rest easy, knowing that their dental woes are only temporary. That's something to smile about.