If you have sensitive teeth, it's usually because the enamel and dentin on the surface is worn away, exposing the tissues — and nerves.

Going sugar-free can help a bit, and there are toothpastes and mouth rinses that help alleviate the sensitivity. But enamel isn’t made up of living cells, so once it’s gone from a tooth, it’s gone for good.

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Quan-Li Li, Chun Hung Chu and a team at the Anhui Medical University and University of Hong Kong may have hit on a way to rebuild enamel and dentin even after enamel wears away completely. They used a substance similar to the one mussels use to stick onto rocks — dopamine.

Teeth are layered. The outer part is the enamel and underneath is the dentin, which is the white part. To restore enamel that has worn off, it’s necessary to get minerals to stick to the dentin. That’s where the dopamine comes in.

Most people think of dopamine as a chemical in the brain, but it also works as a strong glue for mussels.

The researchers dipped bits of human teeth in an acid solution to wear away the enamel. Then they put them in a solution of dopamine. After they dried them off, they immersed the tooth bits in a solution of calcium carbonate, phosphate and fluoride. The result was restoration of the enamel surface after a week of immersion in the calcium carbonate mixture.

The dopamine, as it happened, allowed the minerals to bond to the dentin better and restored some of the hardness of the teeth, though not all of it.

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There is still some work to do on checking whether there is any toxicity — the researchers say it shouldn't be too much of a problem, though, since the amounts are small. Thus far the tests have been on pieces of tooth in the lab rather than in a mouth. But if it works it could end up being a relatively simple treatment for all those folks for whom drinking hot tea or eating sugar is painful.

The team’s results were published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.

Via American Chemical Society.

Credit: Albert Bridge / Wikimedia Commons