What if your teeth could heal themselves?

These biosynthetic tooth fillings could mean the end of root canals.

Dental X-Ray

For most of us, there’s little as anxiety producing as a trip to the dentist, but the news that you’re in need of a root canal is enough to send even the bravest among us into a state of dread. What if there were a way that your damaged teeth could heal themselves? Researchers from Harvard and the University of Nottingham have created stem cell-stimulating fillings that could put an end to root canals.

Existing traditional dental fillings are toxic to human cells and therefore not compatible with the pulp tissue found inside the tooth. In the case of dental pulp disease/injury, root canals are necessary to remove the infected tissue, which if left untreated can actually spread to the sinus and brain and, in rare cases, result in death.

The scientists developed a new kind of filling; one made from synthetic biomaterial that can stimulate the growth of stem cells in the pulp of the tooth. Applied just like regular fillings, researchers believe that if used in a damaged tooth, those stem cells can repair the kind of damage that often comes from the installation of a filling. In essence, the biomaterial filling would allow the tooth to heal itself.

“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,” Adam Celiz, a Marie Curie research fellow at the University of Nottingham, told Newsweek. 

The Royal Society of Chemistry Emerging Technology competition judges described it as a new paradigm for dental treatments. It was awarded second place in the materials category for 2016. The scientists behind the innovation are hoping to further develop the technique with industry partners in order to make available for widespread commercial use. While it may be a while before your local dentist offers the service, a future without root canals is certainly one to look forward to. 

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