U of S dental students create new mercury-free filling

Three University of Saskatchewan dental students have come up with a new mercury-free filling material for cavities that could one day see wide use in their profession.

The new material could make it easier to fill cavities

University of Saskatchewan dental students Jenna Schmitt and Kellyana Quattrini appeared on CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning to talk about the new formula. (Josh Lynn/CBC)

A trio of University of Saskatchewan researchers have come up with something that might change the way dentists fill cavities.

Fourth-year dental students Kellyana Quattrini, Jenna Schmitt and Anapaula Campos have been working on a new material that could serve as an alternative for people who are put off by the presence of mercury in traditional fillings.

"The filling that we've created is different because we have taken out the mercury component of the...silver fillings most people have and we've replaced it with a silver solution that adds some anti-microbial effect to the filling," said Schmitt during an interview on CBC's Saskatoon Morning.

Schmitt says that beyond fighting bacteria, tests have shown the new formula to be stronger than other materials when it sets. It also makes it easier to fill cavities. She points out that the mercury-free aspect of the material is more a response to patient demand than an issue of safety.

"There are concerns about the mercury content in filling materials, but the research that has been done to study the effects actually show no concrete evidence they do have an effect on us," said Schmitt

 The project started in 2011 when a Saskatoon dentist started looking for something that would make getting cavities filled as less arduous experience for her young patients.

"Dr. (Azita) Zerehgar who is a pediatric dentist here in town sought the advice of Dr. (Assem) Hedayat, he's a bio-materials engineer (at the university)," said Quattrini. "She wanted a material that was easier to  place in  kids, just because kids get a bit fussy."

Working with Hedayat and Zerehgar, the then first-year dental students began the research that lead to the development of this new material. After four years of work, the formula still needs to undergo more testing before you might encounter it in your dentist's chair. But according to Quattrini, the future looks promising.

"It's extremely exciting for us, we're really proud of it and passionate about it, we just wanted to create another alternative," she said."Some people have the idea that mercury is not good for them, so we just wanted to provide the public with something else."