Imagine a world without root canals. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful world? Typically people need root canals as the result of a failed cavity filling. When you have a cavity, a dentist drills out the decay and puts in a filling. If soft tissue inside the tooth becomes decayed or infected, however, you have to go a step further and have an oral surgeon perform a root canal to remove all the pulp of the tooth. In addition to a high degree of discomfort during the procedure, the root canal doesn’t help the tooth at all. The decay may be gone, but now you have a tooth with no nerve pulp. It’s now a dead tooth, or perhaps more accurately a “mummified tooth,” as it’s called on AsktheDentist.com.
Part of the problem with the typical cycle of cavity to filling to root canal to dead tooth, is that current dental filling materials are “toxic to cells and therefore incompatible with pulp tissue inside the tooth,” said Adam Celiz, a Marie Curie research fellow at the University of Nottingham. Scientists at the University of Nottingham and Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering recently won a British Royal Society of Chemistry Prize for their work with regenerative dental fillings.
“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,” said Celiz. According to David Mooney, of the Wyss Institute, “These materials may provide an effective and practical approach to allow a patient to regenerate components of their own teeth.”
Just the thought of never again enduring another root canal sounds like enough of a reward, but when the group develops regenerative fillings to the point that the technology is in use in restorative dentistry around the world the prospect of overall healthier teeth, that could be a huge advance.