Researchers at Southwest Research Institute have developed a new dental restorative material that they believe might replace amalgam.
Kent Coulter and his colleagues developed the new proof-of-concept material under a programme funded by the US National Institutes of Health.
Tooth enamel is hardest material in the human body because it is made almost entirely of minerals but it can be broken down by bacteria, forming cavities and eventually destroying the tooth.
To replace the lost enamel, dentists repair cavities by filling them with a material such as amalgam.
Amalgam is durable, easy to use and cheap. The dark fillings are sometimes unsightly, however, and dentists would prefer to use a perfectly white material instead. Other filling materials have been developed in recent years, but they often have problems with shrinkage or durability.
The new material is comprised of a plastic-like material containing zirconia nanoplatelets, and Coulter and his colleagues have developed a means to make a roll of it under vacuum. They envision that, in use, the material would be lifted from the roll and packed in a dental cavity and then cured using an ultraviolet lamp so that it hardens in place without shrinking.
Its use is still several years away and the next steps will be to see how the material performs in those people with cavities.