What is the problem and who does it affect?
Dental decay is the most common chronic childhood disease in New Zealand. Treatment is often delayed, for many reasons – including fear and cost – which only serves to exacerbate the severity of the problem.
Decay also has a greater impact on certain subsets of society, such as a Maori and Pasifika, as well as children from lower socioeconomic environments. The impact is further compounded by the significant impact restorative dental care has on the public health system.
What is this project hoping to achieve?
Dr Joanne Choi from the University of Otago is looking to improve upon a novel technique that could reduce some of the anxiety associated with going to the dentist. Known as the Hall Technique, this method allows for children to avoid the ‘drill and fill’ of conventional dental care.
Instead of the usual invasive measures, a stainless-steel cap is placed on the decaying tooth without any need for anaesthetic or drilling. The crown seals off the decaying tooth, preventing further tooth decay.
One downside to the Hall Technique is the crown’s aesthetically unpleasant look. The appearance of the crown represents a very real obstacle to its use. Dr Choi and her team are developing an alternative crown to stainless steel; one that is tooth coloured and hence less visible as different from the surrounding teeth.
Producing a tooth-coloured cap is not as easy as it sounds; several attempts have been made, only to come up against similar issues around the malleability and plasticity required for the Hall Technique. Using a variety of materials, representing different required functionalities, Dr Choi and her team hope to create a strong crown that lasts.
The team plan to translate their lab-based research into a clinical trial and, ultimately, to make the tooth-coloured crowns available for use in all dental practices.
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