The design of human teeth is the result of millions of years of research on the part of Mother Nature. For years, dentists have tried to improve upon nature by replacing damaged tooth structure with harder and harder porcelains. One of the newest porcelain creations is termed the Bruxer crown fabricated from almost indestructible zirconia. But a new movement in dentistry called biomimetics is challenging how we treat dental disease and fix teeth by emulating life’s genius instead of trying to improve upon it.
Our society is constantly trying to improve upon nature, but doing so has resulted in landfills, toxic waste, and possibly global warming. In a biomimetic world we would manufacture the way animals and plants do, by producing totally biodegradable ceramics and plastics. In dentistry this means rebuilding the tooth considering engineering principles inherent in the original tooth design.
The human tooth is composed of dentin covered with a hard shell of enamel. The biomimetic approach in dentistry considers how the dentin and enamel work together to protect the tooth from fracturing when chewing. A tooth needs to last possibly 100 years, and the enamel coating is there to prevent it from wearing out too soon. If the tooth was made of only dentin it would wear away in only a few years.
If nature would have made the tooth totally of hard enamel, studies indicate that within a few years they would fracture and break. It seems the softer dentin core of the tooth is necessary to flex and absorb the forces of chewing. Even more amazing is how nature bonded the enamel to the dentin of the tooth. It appears that interface is capable of dissipating forces, thereby protecting the tooth from breaking.
If the biomimetic principle continues to influence dentistry, it will change the way we fix teeth. It will determine how hard the porcelains can be, and how a dentist must design the filling to prevent putting stress on the teeth that can cause future problems.
Amalgam fillings are often blamed for causing cracks in teeth because they do not allow the tooth to flex during function. Today most dentists place white composite fillings instead of amalgam because of their appearance and lack of mercury. Biomimetic principles indicate they may also be more forgiving thereby reducing the future risk of the tooth fracturing.