The fear of having a mechanical drill crammed into one's mouth is enough to keep many people from regularly seeing a dentist. New technology developed by researchers at the University of Leeds that is based on knowledge of how the tooth forms in the first place could soon be providing a pain-free way of tackling the first signs of tooth decay. It uses a peptide-based fluid that is literally painted onto the damaged tooth's surface to stimulate the tooth to regenerate itself.

The fluid developed by researchers in the University of Leeds' School of Chemistry contains a peptide known as P 11-4 that will assemble into fibers under certain conditions. When applied to a tooth, the fluid seeps into the micro-pores that form when the acid produced by bacteria in plaque dissolves the mineral in the teeth.

Unlike another drill-free cavity solution called the DMG cavity infiltration system that uses a gel to open up the pores of a cavity so it can be filled with a resin, once inside the micro-pores the peptide-based fluid spontaneously forms a gel that provides a "scaffold" that attracts calcium and regenerates the tooth's mineral from within to provide natural and pain-free repair of the damaged tooth.

"This may sound too good to be true, but we are essentially helping acid-damaged teeth to regenerate themselves. It is a totally natural non-surgical repair process and is entirely pain-free too," said Professor Jennifer Kirkham, from the University of Leeds Dental Institute, who has led development of the new technique.

The researchers recently took the technique out of the laboratory and tested it on a small group of adults whose teeth showed the first signs of decay. The researchers claim the results from this small trial have shown that P 11-4 can indeed reverse damage and successfully regenerate the tooth tissue.

"The results of our tests so far are extremely promising," said Professor Paul Brunton, who is overseeing the patient testing at the University of Leeds Dental Institute. "If these results can be repeated on a larger patient group, then I have no doubt whatsoever that in two to three years time this technique will be available for dentists to use in their daily practice."

"The main reason that people don't go to the dentist regularly is fear. If we can offer a treatment that is completely non-invasive, that doesn't involve a mechanical drill, then we can change that perceived link between dental treatment and pain. This really is more than filling without drilling, this is a novel approach that enables the patients to keep their natural teeth!"

The University of Leeds study is being funded by Switzerland-based start-up credentis AG, which has licensed the technology and plans to introduce P 11-4 to dentists worldwide.