Researchers from Harvard University and the University of Nottingham have developed a new filling that stimulates stem cells in dental pulp to regenerate and even regrow teeth damaged by disease and decay. According to Newsweek Magazine, the discovery earned a prize from the Royal Society of Chemistry after judges described it as a “new paradigm for dental treatments.”
The treatment is believed to potentially eliminate the need for root canals.
Filling materials stimulate stem cells to encourage dentin growth
The filling works by stimulating the body’s natural store of stem cells to encourage the growth of dentin—the bony material that makes up the majority of the tooth—allowing patients to effectively regrow teeth that are damaged through dental disease. The filling’s synthetic biomaterials are used similarly to dental fillings, placed in direct contact with pulp tissue in the damaged tooth. This stimulates the tissue’s native stem cell population to repair and regenerate pulp tissue and the surrounding dentin.
The discovery is a significant step forward from current methods to treat cavities, which involve drilling out decay and putting in a filling made of gold; porcelain; silver amalgam (which consists of mercury mixed with silver, tin, zinc, and copper); or tooth-colored plastic or composite resin. When these fillings fail to halt the tooth’s decay, a root canal is needed to remove the pulp of the tooth, damaging it even further.
Alternative to traditional fillings in teeth
Researchers hope to develop the technique with industry partners in order to make it available for dental patients as an alternative to traditional fillings. Marie Curie research fellow Adam Celiz says that existing dental fillings are toxic to cells and are therefore incompatible with pulp tissue inside the tooth.
“In cases of dental pulp disease and injury, a root canal is typically performed to remove the infected tissues,” Celiz says.
The promise of using therapeutic biomaterials to bring stem cell medicine to restorative dentistry could significantly impact millions of dental patients each year. In fact, the approach is so promising it won second prize in the materials category of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Emerging Technology Competition for 2016.
Competition entries were judged on the degree of innovation of the technology, its potential impact, and the quality of the science behind it. Increasing innovation in the chemical sciences is a key element of the Royal Society of Chemistry's industry strategy.
Effective and practical approach to regenerating teeth
The stem cell stimulating filling promises to change the future of dentistry, according to David Mooney, Pinkas Family Professor of Bioengineering at the John Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering.
“'These materials may provide an effective and practical approach to allow a patient to regenerate components of their own teeth,' Pinkas says.
Stem cells can induce regenerative, self-healing qualities in any tissue found in the body and can, as a result, provide unlimited potential for medical applications. Current studies are underway worldwide to learn how stem cells may be used to prevent or cure diseases and injuries such as Parkinson's disease, type 1 diabetes, heart disease, spinal cord injury, muscular dystrophy, Alzheimer's disease, strokes, burns, osteoarthritis, vision and hearing loss, and more. Stem cells may also be used to replace or repair tissue damaged by disease or injury.