Most dentists would agree that it’s usually preferable to save a patient’s natural teeth if at all possible. But there are those situations that make saving a tooth a challenge; in fact, in the case of most fillings, the dentist is forced to actually create further damage in a tooth before it can be saved. The current method involved in treating a decayed tooth is to remove the decay and the area surrounding the decay, then filling that area with dental filling material.
However, researchers at King’s College London have been exploring new alternatives to this age-old dental method. They are experimenting with ways to actually encourage teeth to regenerate themselves. In fact, they have successfully accomplished this with laboratory mice, and human clinical trials are not that far away.
Just consider the possibilities for this type of revolutionary dental technology. People damage their teeth every day – from sports injuries to accidents to simple wear and tear over time. But most of the damage done to our teeth, as much as we may not like to think about it, comes from the microorganisms that live inside our mouths. The acid they produce as they break down leftover particles of food damages tooth enamel. Eventually, this can lead to cavities.
But researchers have found that teeth may be able to naturally heal themselves if we find a way to mobilize the stem cells present inside the pulp of the tooth. It involves a group of molecules responsible for cell-to-cell communication called the Wnt signaling pathway. This pathway is vital in order for us to repair other tissues in our body and develop stem cells in organs such as the skin and brain, for example. Experts now believe that this same signaling pathway may enable us to repair our own damaged teeth. To test that theory, researchers drilled holes into the teeth of lab mice and insert tiny sponges that contained drugs known to encourage Wnt signaling. The result, after a few weeks, were mice with teeth that were completely regenerated and as good as new.
While there’s still much testing to be done, the early results are promising. Envision a world in which we could actually repair our own cavities! While it would still be necessary to visit your dentist on a regular basis for routine exams and cleanings, it’s hard to imagine that any of us would miss that familiar sound of the dentist’s drill!