TITLE The Future: A Retrospective: Teeth BGCOLOR #EEEEEE
(Part of The Future: A Retrospective)
We continue our journey through the human body with a section on teeth. Richard Gregory of Emory University is part of a mad scheme to "wipe out tooth decay with the same thoroughness that the polio vaccine eliminated that crippling disease." Streptococcus mutans causes most tooth decay, and it should be possible to isolate some effective antigens for the bacterium.
The long (for Future Stuff) arrival time is because of the ever-present FDA, which requires three more human clinical trials before approving the vaccine. Me, I'd just sell the vaccine as a dietary supplement.
We're still waiting--in fact, we've been waiting since the early 70s, when the first studies on S. mutans destruction were published. Wikipedia has a well-sourced timeline. The antigen thing didn't work out, so now the plan is to introduce genetically modified S. mutans into the mouth, where they will kill off their tooth-rotting cousins. It's like zebra mussels--in your mouth! Here's a 2004 NYT article on the topic which talks about the latest series of FDA hoops the idea has to jump through. (D I E T A R Y S U P P L E M E N T) In these clinical tests, the bacteria die out unless you gargle with a mouthwash that provides a special amino acid--just like in Jurassic Park!
The NYT article predicts anticavity vaccine by 2010, but I've heard that before; in fact, I heard something similar in this very Future Stuff entry. The way this is going, by the time this comes on the market I won't have any teeth left.
|Time-Release Fluoride Pellets|
Pellets? Whose bright idea was pellets? Only a hamster enjoys a pellet. The bright idea seems to have been Dale Mirth's, of the United States National Institute for Dental Research (recently rebranded as the hipper National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research).
The pellets work something like the blood capsules used to film vampire movies. A dentist attaches them to your bicuspids and over the next six months they release fluoride into your mouth. Patent #5074786 (filed for Johnson & Johnson) has diagrams, which make your teeth look like part of a stereo system.
Between fluoridated water and toothpaste, fluoride mouthwash, etc., there's not much call for this, so it's not surprising that the phrase "intraoral fluoride releasing devices" only shows up in medical papers and patents.
|Computer-Designed Dental Crowns|
"In THE FUTURE [caps added], photographs--rather than impressions--will be taken of the injured tooth. These will be digitized... Software will then instruct a milling machine how to make the crown." The advantages: the crown materials are cheaper, and you can get the whole crown done in one dentist visit. Another of those inventions that took a lot longer to arrive than Future Stuff predicted, but that now exist as described. My mother described her experience with this device in 2004:
The dentist drilled out the old filling and the new cavity, leaving a horrifyingly jagged shell of a molar which my tongue of course couldn't resist. He took a digital picture of the tooth, cropped the surrounding teeth out of the picture, and then used some fancy software to transform the picture into a virtual 3-D image of the tooth. Then, using the trackball on the computer, he outlined the area that was to be filled with porcelain. The computer sent the info to a milling machine, which lathed out a block of porcelain in the exact shape and size of the hole. Then the dentist basically bonded the patch in with Krazy Glue.
In 2004 "only about 4 to 5% of dentists [had] this equipment": I had a crown put in around the same time, but I got impressions taken instead of the magic photographs, and I'm pretty sure I had to come back for a second appointment.
|Painless Dentist Drill|
At last, the thrill of asteroid mining--in your mouth! (Note to self: somehow "in your mouth" joke never gets old.) Pfizer Laser Systems has developed a laser drill that makes it possible to "remove decay, seal fissures in an effort to prevent decay, and even seal any open ends after a root canal," without needing local anasthesia.
Pfizer sold/spun off PLS in 1991, and the only Pfizer lazer drill patent is 2003's #7030338, which drills holes in pill capsules ("pharmaceutical dosage forms") for reasons best known to Pfizer. So let's try Premier Laser Systems... Continuing the asteroid mining theme, the dental laser was called the "Centauri Er:YAG", and it was FDA-approved in 1997. Then it disappeared off the face of the earth. There's a 1999 patent assigned to "PLS Liquidation LLC," which doesn't sound good.
If the laser worked, what is the deal? It's the future, so why isn't there a laser dentist on every street corner? Said deal seems to be that "despite FDA approval, no laser system has received the American Dental Association's Seal of Acceptance." Also, the machinery is extremely expensive: "Lasers can cost between $39,000 and $45,000 compared to about $600 for a standard drill." So just take the Novocaine.