In my two decades of living on this planet, I’ve only visited the dentist just two years ago to have my teeth thoroughly cleaned and the cavities filled up. It’s almost everyone’s nightmare, going to the dentist and having all sorts of tools, pastes and tubes stuck in your mouth and who knows how painful it could be.
Fortunately, science is going to make things better by making a trip to the dentist in three to five years’ time a much pleasant experience.
Researchers recently demonstrated that a small, blowtorch-like device emitting a relatively cool beam of purple plasma can eliminate oral bacteria in cavities, leaving more tooth structure intact than a drill does.
Yep, the stuff that makes up the sun itself, is going to help us get rid of those cavity-inducing bacteria without the pain, invasive and even destructive effects the age-old dentist’s drill which have been around since 1887!
Recalling your physics class in high school, plasma is the fourth state of matter after solid, liquid and gas. It is an ionized gas which behaves almost like gas, having no definite shape nor definite volume but it can be manipulated using magnetic fields. Common samples are lightning, the sun and some flames.
We don’t have to fear about being fried by plasma, because the specific type that’s being developed for dentistry is a “cold plasma” having a temperature of around 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius). It’s made in the lab by partially ionizing helium gas with pulses of microwaves lasting just millionths of a second.
The cold plasma works far better than drilling off parts of the teeth that have been invaded by bacteria by having a direct effect on the germs itself. Just 12-18 seconds of exposure, the plasma kills off the bacteria by charging oxygen gas in the surrounding air, giving rise to highly reactive molecules which break down the bacteria’s defenses and punch holes in its cell wall causing its death.
Scientists reckon that in three to five years, the plasma jet would be ready for commercial use and would soon be used by dentists world wide. Come to think of it, it’s like cleaning your teeth with a lightsaber the size of a toothpick!