Can new gel replace dentist's drill?

If you're putting off a trip to the dentist to avoid the dreaded drill, a new technique may eliminate your cavity without the need to open wide and cringe.

A new peptide embedded in soft gel or thin film placed next to a cavity encourages cells inside teeth to regenerate in about a month, according to a report on

"It's not like toothpaste," which prevent cavities, said Nadia Benkirane-Jessel, a scientist at the Institut National de la Sante et de la Recherche Medicale and a co-author of a recent paper. "Here we are really trying to control cavities (after they develop)."

Cavities are caused by oral bacteria that form when people eat sugary snacks or don't maintain proper oral hygiene, allowing the bacteria to consume the tooth's protective enamel. Treatment of a cavity typically involves drilling into the tooth, scraping away the decay and filling in the hole. Instead of a drill, a quick dab of gel or a thin film against an infected tooth could heal it from within, said Berkirane-Jessel.

The active ingredient in the gel or film is a peptide is known as MSH (melanocyte-stimulating hormone), which encourages bone regeneration. Since bone and teeth are fairly similar in composition, French scientists deduced MSH should be equally effective on cavities.

The scientist tested their theory on the cavity-filled teeth of mice, and after about a month, the cavities had disappeared, Benkirane-Jessel said. But MSH-based gels and films only treat cavities, she stressed -- they don't prevent them. People still need to brush and floss regularly to help prevent cavities.

The new technique will require several years of clinical trials before its approved for use on human cavities. And even then, most cavities will still need to be drilled and filled, since the technique is only effective in a small number of cases.