Walking into a dentist's office could be less of a frightening thing in the future if scientists Kyle Vining of Harvard and Adam Celiz of the British University of Nottingham have anything to do with it.
Since the 1700s, when modern dentistry began to evolve, people have assumed that the parts of teeth damaged by cavities were gone for good and that there was nothing to be done except drill out the decay and fill the remaining tooth with some kind of enamel or metal. That entire paradigm is changing.
Vining and Celiz have just won a prize in the Royal Society of Chemistry's emerging technology competition for creating a synthetic biomaterial that stimulates stem cells native to your teeth to repair them.
That's right: The substance appears to somehow make that area regenerate pulp tissue and the critical bony material of your tooth known as dentin.
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Celiz said that in the future, all fillings could be made of this material so that damaged teeth could repair themselves, potentially ending the era of root canals, according to Popular Science.
Interest in regenerative medicine for dentistry has been growing in recent years. In 2014, Harvard bioengineering professor David J. Mooney showed that a low-power light might be able to trigger stem cells into regenerating tissue.
The work involved drilling holes in the molars of rodents and treating the tooth pulp with adult stem cells with low-dose laser. They checked the teeth about 12 weeks later with high-resolution X-rays and microscopy, and found that there was more dentin.
Ruoxue Feng and Christopher Lengner wrote in a 2013 paper that from an economic and practical standpoint, dental stem cell therapy could most easily be applied to treating cavities or the detachment of some ligaments because of an injury but that replacing a whole tooth appeared to be untenable at this time.
"Stem cells are rapidly becoming a focus for the restoration of function and aesthetics in dentistry," the researchers wrote.