Treating Tooth Decay with ‘Plasma Jets’ Instead of the Dental Drill or Laser?

Plasma jets could offer a painless alternative to dentists’ drills, according to German researchers. The study is in the February issue of the Journal of Medical Microbiology.

Plasmas are known as the fourth state of matter after solids, liquids and gases and have an increasing number of technical and medical applications. Plasmas are common everywhere in the cosmos, and are produced when high-energy processes strip atoms of one or more of their electrons. This forms high-temperature reactive oxygen species that are capable of destroying microbes. These hot plasmas are already used to disinfect surgical instruments.

Researchers found that firing low temperature plasma beams at dentin — the fibrous tooth structure beneath the enamel coating — reduced the amount of dental bacteria by up to 10,000-fold. The results suggest that plasma jets could be used to remove infected tissue in tooth cavities, a procedure that currently requires a drill.

For the study, the researchers infected dentin from extracted human molars with four strains of bacteria and then exposed the dentin to plasma jets for 6, 12 or 18 seconds. The amount of bacteria that was eliminated increased the longer the dentin was exposed to the plasma jets.

Dr Stefan Rupf from Saarland University who led the research said that the recent development of cold plasmas that have temperatures of around 40 degrees Celsius showed great promise for use in dentistry. “The low temperature means they can kill the microbes while preserving the tooth. The dental pulp at the centre of the tooth, underneath the dentin, is linked to the blood supply and nerves and heat damage to it must be avoided at all costs.

Once again, a new technology in dentistry seems promising and exciting! Comments?

More information: Science Daily; Journal of Medical Microbiology

Photo: Applied Plasma Technology Institute/Old Dominion University