Are these regenerative tooth fillings the end of root canals forever?

Going to the dentist is often already a nerve-wracking experience for most of us, so when they find a cavity it definitely doesn’t make it any easier. Now imagine a world where cavities are no longer scary and root canals are a thing of the past. Sounds pretty amazing, but it’s actually a lot closer to being a reality than you think!

Nothing but the Tooth

Researchers at the University of Nottingham and Harvard University have developed a new biomaterial that they say allows damaged pulp in the tooth to regenerate itself and form a protective layer of dentin. This is a major step forward for long-term fillings and helping the tooth prevent infections which could lead to a root canal.

A root canal is given when an injury or large cavity damages a tooth down to the core, causing infection or inflammation. The dentist numbs the tooth and drills into the infected area. They clean it from the inside then fill the canals with a permanent material known as gutta-percha before capping the crown of the tooth. It’s about as fun as it sounds.

How it Works

Teeth are made of three layers: the outer enamel, the middle dentin that supports the enamel, and the inner pulp where soft tissue and nerves are located. Protecting the inner pulp is important, and currently filling cavities has a 10% chance of failing. That’s one in every 10 patients!

The new filling stimulates the native stem cells in the tooth for repair and regeneration of pulp tissue and dentin. This eliminates the need for the arduous procedure of a root canal to take place.

“Existing dental fillings are toxic to cells and are therefore incompatible with pulp tissue inside the tooth,” says University of Nottingham’s Dr. Adam Celiz, “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”.

“We are excited about the promise of therapeutic biomaterials for bringing regenerative medicine to restorative dentistry” added Dr Kyle Vining from Harvard University. The team also won second prize in the ‘materials’ category at the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Emerging Technologies Competition in 2016 which has given them some funding to expand the technology further.

Dental hygiene has come a long way recently, and this is another big step forward. Maybe next time you won’t have to worry about enjoying a big helping of fruit salad!