Although most people have tooth decay, the situation is far improved from past generations. And it may not be a big surprise that people in higher income households generally have lower rates of untreated decay and periodontal (gum) disease, as well as fewer missing teeth, than those in lower income households.
There is good news for those who do have dental problems…
Researchers have identified a drug that can regenerate teeth from the inside out, possibly reducing the need for artificial fillings.
The drug was previously used in Alzheimer’s clinical trials, and it now appears to improve the tooth’s natural ability to heal itself. It works by activating stem cells inside the tooth’s pulp center, prompting the damaged area to regenerate the hard dentin material that makes up the majority of a tooth.
“The simplicity of our approach makes it ideal as a clinical dental product for the natural treatment of large cavities, by providing both pulp protection and restoring dentine,” said lead author Paul Sharpe from King’s College London.
“In addition, using a drug that has already been tested in clinical trials for Alzheimer’s disease provides a real opportunity to get this dental treatment quickly into clinics.”
After a tooth is damaged by things like trauma or cavities, the soft pulp at its center can be exposed, increasing the risk of infection.
The body creates thin layer of dentin for protection which helps block the outside materials to make way inside. But, this is not enough to protect the teeth from cavities which is why the dentist drill the cavity out and pack the area with artificial fillings. It worked in the past, but it is not ideal.
- Sharpe says that the tooth isn’t a lump of material to replace a living tissue with inert cement. She adds that the fillings are good, but if the tooth cannot repair by itself, then it is a good idea.
- Sharpe and his team found that they could use the Alzheimer’s drug Tideglusib to stimulate the stem cells inside a tooth to actually create more dentin than usual, regenerating the whole structure without needing to add any foreign substance at all.
In other words, no fillings.
To figure this out, the researchers used Tideglusib on damaged teeth in mice to see how it promoted stem cell activation.
The drug was applied to the cavity using a biodegradable collagen sponge soaked in Tideglusib molecules, and then everything was sealed up inside.
After several weeks, the team saw that the collagen sponge had degraded, and the teeth had regenerated enough dentin to fill the gap.
The process itself is very similar to a normal cavity filling, but instead of putting in an artificial filler, doctors are encouraging the growth of natural dentin, leading to healthier teeth in the long run.
“Dentistry is not only about filling and drilling, but also about keeping the teeth healthy,” oral cell biologist Ben Scheven from the University of Birmingham in the UK, who was not involved with the study, told The Guardian.
“Especially since it’s an accessible and cheap treatment, I can imagine this being used in the clinic.”
But this method was so far used only on mice, so there is need for further research to confirm the results to be used in humans. This team planned to move to rats next and if it is positive, it can be tried on humans. The collagen sponges and the Tideglusib will speed up the process if the method does make it to testing of humans.
It was announced from an UK team that they are developing a pulp cap which can be inserted in tooth to trigger dentin growth by stimulating the stem cells. And another study from 2015, this time by researchers in Australia, found that tooth decay could be reversed with a high-concentration fluoride varnish before cavities form, possibly lowering the amount of treatment needed to begin with.
We still have a long way to go before these options will be available at our local dentist, but researchers are determined to make oral care less horrible in the future, which should be good news to millions of people who fear the drill.