From dental sealants and fluoride toothpastes to dental implants and composite fillings, medical breakthroughs have a long history of providing Dr. Rita Feldmanis a range of exciting options for helping to maintain and improve her patient’s oral health. However, despite all of the tools science has given us to fight the effects of tooth decay, 91 percent of adults in the U.S. between the ages of 20 to 64 have suffered from cavities and decay.
Yet the days where dental decay threatened to ruin the smiles and long-term oral health of so many may quickly be coming to an end. New research suggests that medications designed to stimulate cells can activate mechanisms that cause teeth to actually repair themselves. If these so called “small molecule” drugs perform as well as researchers hope, we may soon approach a time were dentists like Dr. Feldmanis may able to repair dental tissue and even regrow an entire tooth.
Here are some of the concepts that researchers are currently exploring.
The Power of Stem Cells
As technology has advanced currently, dentists only have the option of drilling out the decayed material when they spot a cavity. Once drilled and cleaned, a filling is placed to restore the function back to the tooth. Unfortunately, once organic tooth material has been removed and replaced by an inorganic filling, the tooth will never be as strong or as resilient as when previously healthy. This can lead to further damage occurring to a tooth should the filling fail or if decay should resume destroying the natural enamel.
This could all change in the near future. Research has found that certain types of drugs can actually stimulate stem cells within the dental pulp – the soft material that comprises the center of our teeth that’s filled with blood vessels and nerves – into regrowing enough dentin (bony tissue) to fill a cavity.
Researchers have especially high hopes for Tideglusib, an experimental drug that has both an exceptional safety record and is remarkably cheap to produce. Researchers believe that the testing of this drug can be fasted tracked with the FDA because it’s already being used in trials as a treatment for Alzheimer’s.
The dentin produced by stimulating Tideglusib has the ability to completely integrate itself with the existing tooth enamel. This means that unlike a filling, the tooth isn’t simply patched up, but regrown to restore it back to health.
Currently, the research into the potential uses for Tideglusib has only been conducted using rats, but researchers believe that human trials could start by the end of the year.
While researchers continue to explore the potential offered by Tideglusib, another team at the University of Buffalo are exploring an another potential solution for how humans can regrow teeth. The team is currently testing the use of a low-power laser to stimulate tooth regeneration.
When the decay of a tooth becomes so bad that it reaches the pulp, the only option Dr. Feldmanis has to save the tooth is to perform a root canal. This procedure requires the tooth to be hollowed out and cleaned, before being filled and sealed with an artificial cap. While this procedure can save a tooth from needing to be removed, the tooth loses the natural resiliency it had when still “alive.”
Researchers have found that by shining a laser light directly into the remaining pulp, it can stimulate the stem cells within the pulp to begin producing new dentin. While the tooth would still need a cap to protect the delicate interior, the material inside the tooth would be natural, not man made.
This breakthrough would not only allow the body to begin repairing a process – severe tooth decay – that it could not before, it would also make teeth far more resilient than what current technology makes possible.
While the future of dentistry appears to hold a lot of exciting options for improving patient care, there’s still no substitute for practicing quality oral hygiene at home and scheduling regular exams with Dr. Rita Feldmanis.