When it comes to visiting the dentist, there’s not much that’s worse than getting a root canal. Between the pain and the cost (usually around $1,000 per tooth), nobody actually enjoys one. In fact, the old saying goes that anything bad “is like getting a root canal.” Thankfully, root canals might soon be a thing of the past.
At Harvard University and the University of Nottingham, researchers believe that they’re able to develop fillings that can be put into cavities that contain stem cells. These stem cells would allow the fillings to self repair. A root canal comes due to failed fillings (which is around 15 percent of them) to remove the soft tissue in the tooth that typically leads to losing said tooth.
So not only would these stem cell fillings lessen the need for a painful root canal, but it would also help prevent the need of dentures. The process would be the same as getting a regular filling, according to researcher Adam Celiz. “Existing dental fillings are toxic to cells and therefore incompatible with pulp tissue inside the tooth,” he said.
“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 degeneration of pulp tissue and the surrounding dentin,” he sadded. “Our approach has great promise to impact the dental field.”
Since typical fillings have a success rate of around 85 percent, the bar would have to be set pretty high for the stem cell filings. Researchers say that the failure rate is reduced to nearly nothing with this new method. If able to get into every dentist’s office, it would be monumental for the field.
Another use for stem cells in the dental field is coming from a drug that was developed for Alzheimer’s disease patients called Tideglusib. Researchers believe that they can use the already established drug to prevent tooth decay, and that it could come even sooner than stem cell fillings.
Dr. Paul Sharpe of King’s College London says that “The dentin produced by stimulating stem cells with Tideglusib integrates itself completely within the tooth so there’s no risk of the filling coming out, which is a big problem with the current methods, which haven’t changed much in the past 100 years. There’s a big need for biology to impact upon dentistry and drag it out of the 19th century.”
Amalgam is currently being used in fillings, but it poses a bit of a risk. Since it contains mercury, it could create health hazards. “Mercury works and lasts for a long time, but having that in your mouth is a concern,” Sharpe said.
When it comes to stem cells that can regenerate parts of the body, it’s not just teeth. Many human organs are being looked at, including limbs. Army Lt. Col. David Saunders spoke on possibly using stem cells to help amputees regrow arms and legs. “We’re not quite there yet,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is develop a toolkit for our trauma and reconstructive surgeons out of various regenerative medicine products as they emerge to improve long-term outcomes in function and form of injured extremities.”
For now, things are in the developmental stages for pretty much every aspect. If it were up to Celiz, the time for stem cells being used in places like the dentist’s office would come sooner rather than later. He’s hoping to find industrial partners to help advance the research so it can become publicly available.
Cost is quite high for stem cells right now when used in orthopedic surgeries, but those prices are likely to go down in the future as the development improves. Eventually, the hope is that stem cells are the most affordable and effective form of treatment in patients in a wide variety of procedures.