Every year, dentists fill millions of cavities from teeth that have decayed. Ordinarily, this does its job in protecting the inner pulp from harm, but in around 10 percent of cases they fail. This requires the dentist to perform a root canal and completely remove all the infected tissue from the center of the tooth. But what if there was a way in which to encourage the tooth to repair itself?
Well that is exactly what researchers at the University of Nottingham and Harvard University are trying to achieve. They have developed a new biomaterial that they say allows the damaged pulp to regenerate a protective layer of dentin. This should help the tooth prevent infection of the site, and make for more integrated and long-term fillings, causing a significant shift in the way that dental cavities are treated.
“Existing dental fillings are toxic to cells and are therefore incompatible with pulp tissue inside the tooth,” explains the University of Nottingham’s Dr Adam Celiz in a statement. “In cases of dental pulp disease and injury a root canal is typically performed to remove the infected tissues. We have designed synthetic biomaterials that can be used similarly to dental fillings but can be placed in direct contact with pulp tissue to stimulate the native stem cell population for repair and regeneration of pulp tissue and the surrounding dentin.”
Teeth are formed of different layers of tissue. On the outermost layer is the enamel, which is the hard white surface, followed underneath by the dentin that acts as support to the enamel. In the center is the pulp, the soft inner tissue that contains the blood vessels and nerves. During tooth decay, bacteria will break down the enamel, revealing the dentin and increasing the risk of infection, potentially even exposing the sensitive pulp.
The synthetic biomaterial developed by the researchers aims to stimulate the stem cells already found within the pulp of the tooth, encouraging them to grow and form new dentin to protect the softer pulp underneath. The research has impressed those over at the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Emerging Technologies Competition 2016, who awarded the new substance second prize in the “materials” category.
“We are excited about the promise of therapeutic biomaterials for bringing regenerative medicine to restorative dentistry,” says Dr Kyle Vining, from the Wyss Institute at Harvard University. The team now hope to move things forward and develop the technology further.