The dental drill could soon be a thing of the past with new research from the University of Missouri. Their new plasma brush technology uses a “cool flame” chemical reaction…

dentist drilling and filling
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Painless Filling a Possibility with Plasma Brush

The dental drill could soon be a thing of the past with new research from the University of Missouri. Their new plasma brush technology uses a “cool flame” chemical reaction to disinfect the decayed area of the tooth and clean it out to prepare for a filling. After successful lab results, the project is ready to move on to human clinical trials.

Is a “Painless” Filling Possible?

The four dreaded words, “You have a cavity,” can be enough to make anyone cringe. Getting a cavity filled is generally not associated with a pleasant experience. It takes longer than your average dental visit, especially considering the possibility of needing a replacement filling in the future. It also is known to be at least somewhat painful, whether from the prick of the initial numbing shot or from anesthetic not taking effect in your tooth. Realizing this stigma, researchers at the University of Missouri have been testing different strategies to find a solution.

Plasma Brush Prototype

The University of Missouri recently published a press release announcing its successful plasma brush prototype, which aims to replace the traditional drill used to fill cavities. They say that due to its “favorable results in the lab,” they will begin human clinical trials promptly.

The researchers are expecting this brush to completely revolutionize the filling process by making it painless and more efficient. It takes only 30 seconds to entirely clean and sterilize the cavity with the “cool” flame of the brush using chemical reactions. It also aims to provide a higher-quality bond for the cavity filling than that created by a typical drill, which could help decrease the chance of needing a restoration.

“Two hundred million tooth restorations cost Americans an estimated $50 billion a year, and it is estimated that replacement fillings constitute 75 percent of a dentist’s work. The plasma brush would help reduce those costs. In addition, a tooth can only support two or three restorations before it must be pulled. Our studies indicate that fillings are 60 percent stronger with the plasma brush, which would increase the filling lifespan. This would be a big benefit to the patient, as well as dentists and insurance companies.” – Hao Li, an associate professor in the MU College of Engineering and president of Nanova, Inc.

They also disclosed their partnership with Nanova, Inc., a company recently formed by two of the University professors. Nanova, Inc. holds half of the patent for this plasma brush.

Drilling and Filling – Where the Research Started

Researchers from the University of Missouri have been working on this plasma brush technology since 2007 with a $270,000, 3-year grant from the National Science Foundation, according to another press release from the University.

Cavity Treatment Problems

They initially noticed several issues with the traditionally practiced procedure of filling cavities. The first was that the vibrations and heat from the drill cause the pain often experienced in filling procedures, because they disturb the nerves in the teeth. Another issue was the noisy drilling sounds, which causes unrest with the patient. The other problem they wanted to remedy was the short lifespan of many fillings. The traditional method of drilling cavities includes bonds that usually have to be replaced. In fact, according to one of the researchers, most general dentists spend about 75% of their time replacing fillings that have failed due to poor seals or bonding.

Alternative Method

Researchers decided to pursue plasma treatments as the best possible remedy for the issues at hand. “Plasma treatment would be a painless, nondestructive and tissue-saving way to care for and treat cavities because it relies on chemical reactions instead of heat or mechanical interactions. And the chemical bonding between teeth and fillings that the plasma treatment would create would be much stronger than dentists currently get with drills or laser techniques,” assistant professor Qingsong Yu, who is overseeing the project, told the MU News Bureau.

This new type of procedure could open the dental world to new possibilities of a silent and painless experience with long-lasting results. The researchers expect human trials to begin toward the beginning of 2012 and, assuming they have legal approval and sufficient studies, they hope to place this plasma brush on the market near the end of 2013.

What do you think about the new plasma brush concept?

4 Comments
  1. I also agree about the noise.Every time i go to the dentist and hear that sound when they clean your teeth,it makes me become stressed.Beside this i have a needle phobia that amplifies my fear and stress.

  2. I agree about noise often being a bigger issue than pain. Patients seem to equate noise and pressure to pain, when really there usually isn’t any pain involved. Eliminating the noise of a procedure would go a long way to helping patients feel more secure.

  3. I think we can all agree that have a “noiseless” method for cleaning and disinfecting dental cavities would be fantastic.
    What still needs to be proven to the dental community is that all the decayed tooth portions can be predictably removed and that the remaining tooth structure is clean and strong enough to maintain a new filling longer than the traditional methods. Early research seems to suggest that it does.
    Additionally, it would be helpful if the plasma brush was faster than the traditional dental handpiece. If the only benefit is a lack of noise, that might not be enough of an advantage to convince dentists to invest in this technology…especially in the early phase. Again, early data suggests this will be the case.
    I’d also be curious about the size of the machine, the maintenance, the training and learning curve, and the cost. These factors are always considered before purchasing any new equipment. I think size, in particular, is a limiting factor for many dentists, as treatment rooms are often already cramped and difficult to maneuver around.
    We all remember when lasers where going to take us to the “promised land” of pain-free, noiseless, quick cavity elimination. While that technology works quite well, it hasn’t really caught on as predicted, even decades later, due primarily to the size of the equipment, cost, and the protective eye-wear required.
    Let’s hope the plasma brush solves these problems and moves us all significantly forward. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait too long. This breakthrough could be “just what the doctor ordered,” for patients and dentists alike!

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