"Open wide -- a little wider. That's it. This won't hurt a bit." The scene is all too familiar. The ominous chair, the "sadist" behind the mask, the prick of the needle -- that awful, awful needle. Then the numbness and mechanical whine of the drill … the ear-screeching I'd-rather-stick-a-screwdriver-in-my-eye whine. Mother was right; floss and brush every night before bed.
Would've, should've, could've. Learning life's lessons can be painful, especially when it comes to filling cavities. Unlike a shattered finger, a ripped leg bone or even a busted rib, a tooth cannot repair itself. As a result, cavities -- those permanently damaged areas on the hard surface of human teeth -- are the bane of our oral existence.
Cavities go by many names, including tooth decay and caries, but they're caused by one thing: tiny bacteria. The bacteria chew away at the enamel, the hard, outer shell of the tooth. Bacteria forms over time when we don't clean our teeth well and often. If left untreated, bacteria creates cavities that can dig deeper and deeper into a tooth. When that happens, toothaches, infections and tooth loss can occur [source: Mayo Clinic].
There are several ways for dentists to treat these maladies of the maw. They can drill the decayed enamel out of the tooth and replace the damaged area with fillings made from various substances, including porcelain and mixtures of silver and other materials. If the decay is so bad that it reaches the pulp, or inner area of the tooth, a root canal may be necessary. Pulling a tooth is another option when all else fails [source: Mayo Clinic].
But what if filling cavities was painless? What if science could silence the incessant hum of the dentist's drill forever? Researchers in Great Britain say they might have invented such a technique. Scientists at Leeds University Dental Institute say they have developed a protein solution that, when applied to a decaying tooth, helps the enamel regenerate within weeks, obviating the need for more radical solutions [source: Times of India]. Scientists are testing the procedure as we speak. In the meantime, go to the next page to find five products that prevent tooth decay.