Fillings and the dentist's drill could soon become just an unpleasant memory now that scientists have developed a technique to rebuild teeth using tiny electrical pulses that could be available within three years.
Tooth decay is normally removed by drilling and the cavity is filled with amalgam or composite resin. The new treatment encourages the tooth to repair itself by speeding up the natural movement of calcium and phosphate minerals into the damaged tooth.
Known as Electrically Accelerated and Enhanced Remineralisation (EAER), the process developed by scientists uses a tiny electric current to push minerals into the damaged area.
The tooth is repaired without the need for drilling, injections or filling. Prof Nigel Pitts, from King's College London Dental Institute, said: "The way we treat teeth today is not ideal.
"When we repair a tooth by putting in a filling, that tooth enters a cycle of drilling and refilling as, ultimately, each 'repair' fails.
"Not only is our device kinder to the patient and better for their teeth, but it's expected to be at least as cost-effective as current dental treatments."
Prof Pitts added: "Along with fighting tooth decay, our device can also be used to whiten teeth."
A Scottish company, Reminova, based in Perth, is trying to find private investment to develop the technique. It hopes EAER could be available within three years if funding is available.
The company has been established from the King's College London Dental Innovation and Translation Centre, which was set up in January last year to use technologies and turn them into commercial products and services.
The technique is the second to be developed in recent months that could help end the pain of root canal surgery.
Last month, researchers from the US government's dental research team discovered that a blast of intense light from a laser beam activated a chemical in the mouth which "woke up" stem cells within the tooth.
The stem cells then formed new dentine, the hard core of the tooth that can easily rot away, approximately 12 weeks later.
Only five minutes under a laser was enough to kick-start the healing process inside the mouth, researchers found.