We’re pretty approachable here at Falmouth Dental Arts, and yet, we know and appreciate that a trip to the dentist may not be exactly what some of you have in mind as ‘fun.’ This is certainly the case when and if a root canal comes into the picture, but the future is looking bright in that regard: a recent breakthrough has many people thinking (and hoping) that root canals may become a thing of the past, thanks to stem cells.
Over the past year, regenerative dental fillings have generated much scientific attention. Researchers from the University of Nottingham and Harvard University’s Wyss Institute have found that fillings utilizing stem cells could change the future of root canal procedures for the better, by stimulating teeth to repair and regenerate their own damaged tissues.
What role do stem cells play in this process? Stem cells are undifferentiated (aka non-specialized) cells that are capable of transforming into different cells. Stem cells have been utilized in other regenerative therapies that have developed over the past several years. To date, most applications of stem cells in the health industry involve repair of diseased and/or injured tissues.
It’s technology that could change many people’s lives. For those who don’t know about root canals, they can be intimidating experiences for some patients because the root canal – also referred to as the pulp – and the nerve of a tooth are removed due to extensive tissue damage. Usually the damage is from a prior cavity in the region that spread beyond the enamel into the tissue below. Removal of a tooth’s pulp and nerve also dramatically weakens the tooth, and might require further dental work like crowns or caps to reinforce the tooth. Additionally, materials inserted into fillings as a result of cavities or root canals are also often toxic to cells. Regenerative fillings would hypothetically negate all these risks, and would not require invasive procedures.
Our own Dr. Brian Brunacini shared his thoughts on the potential of the technology. “In dentistry, we are always searching for ways to make the experience as non-invasive and comfortable as possible. It is exciting to see new treatment modalities coming out in dentistry. Regenerative dentistry would be a complete paradigm shift in how teeth are repaired.”
During initial tests, regenerative fillings successfully stimulated the development of dentin, the tissue that makes up the tooth below the visible white enamel. Theoretically, injecting these stem cell-powered biomaterials into a damaged tooth would prompt the cells to regenerate dentin in their natural environment, right where it’s needed the most. This could mean that in the future a damaged tooth could heal itself!
As supporters of holistic and integrative dentistry, we’re excited about this breakthrough. We’ll have to curb our enthusiasm for now: regenerative fillings are only in the initial stages of research and much must be done to develop the treatment before it’s ready for use on humans. The research is promising however: regenerative fillings received second place in the materials category of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Emerging Technologies Competition in 2016.
This development could mean a great deal to dental patients who require fillings and root canals across the globe. Are you curious about the prospect of regenerative dental fillings? Call and talk with us about them, or let’s chat at your next appointment.