Currently, tooth decay is remedied by excising the tainted enamel using a drill and scalpel. The cavity is then filled -- hence the term "fillings" -- with amalgam or composite resin.
But dentists at Kings College London have developed a technique that encourages the tooth to repair itself, called Electrically Accelerated and Enhanced Remineralisation, or EAER for short.
The two-step process -- involving, first, minimal preparation, and next, a tiny electric current -- naturally accelerates the influx of calcium and phosphate minerals into the damaged area. Researchers hope the treatment can be employed commercially within three years.
"The way we treat teeth today is not ideal," said Professor Nigel Pitts, who helped develop the technique at King's College London's Dental Institute. "When we repair a tooth by putting in a filling, that tooth enters a cycle of drilling and refilling as, ultimately, each 'repair' fails."
Although the treatment has only recently demonstrated its promise, Reminova Ltd, a company based in Perth, Scotland, has already been set up to commercialize the research.