Researchers have found a way to regenerate rotten teeth. Using a drug normally given to treat those with Alzheimer’s, a team of scientists have managed to repair cavities by stimulating the naturally occurring stem cells in the tooth to rebuild its dense bony tissue.
While dentists can treat tooth decay and cavities, the solution is not always satisfactory. Current cements used to fill in the holes can crack or disintegrate, often leading to repeated jobs for the worst cavities. Eventually, it can even lead to the tooth in question being removed, as the hole can never fully be treated. But by treating the cavities with an already established drug, known as tideglusib, the researchers have managed to do something remarkable.
Dentists have devised a treatment to regenerate rotten teeth that could substantially reduce the need for fillings in the future. The therapy works by enhancing the natural ability of teeth to repair themselves through the activation of stem cells in the soft pulp at the centre. Normally, this mechanism is limited to repairing small cracks and holes in dentine, the solid bulk of the tooth beneath the surface enamel. Now scientists have shown that the natural process can be enhanced using an Alzheimer’s drug, allowing the tooth’s own cells to rebuild cavities extending from the surface to the root.
In the trial, in mice, the team showed that when defects were filled with a biodegradable sponge soaked in the drug, the tooth was gradually able to rebuild itself.
Restoring the tooth’s original dentine structure is preferable because dental cements used in conventional fillings weaken the tooth, leave it prone to future infections – and inevitably erode or detach. In the case of large cavities, the tooth may eventually need to be extracted after undergoing multiple treatments. The new method, which would encourage natural tooth repair, has the potential to eliminate these issues, according to the scientists.
“The tooth is not just a lump of mineral, it’s got its own physiology. You’re replacing a living tissue with an inert cement,” said Sharpe.
“Fillings work fine, but if the tooth can repair itself, surely [that’s] the best way. You’re restoring all the vitality of the tooth.”
Teeth are made up of different layers. While the top of the gnasher is formed by a layer of tough enamel, underneath this is a thick layer of dentin, which surrounds a soft, pulpy core. The center of the tooth contains stem cells, but this can only lead to limited repair in the dentin and is not sufficient if the damage or hole in the tooth is too great.
“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,” explains Professor Paul Sharpe, lead author of the study published in Nature, in a statement.
“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.”
The ability for the tooth to heal itself could revolutionize how dentists treat cavities, especially considering it could potentially be fast-tracked into clinical use.