The team of scientists at King’s College London says that a chemical, which has already been trialed as a potential dementia therapy, can encourage teeth to repair themselves. This could mean an end to fillings, the BBC reports.
The research team succeeded to encourage cells in the dental pulp to heal small holes in mice teeth. A biodegradable sponge was soaked in the drug and then put inside the cavity. The study, published in Science Reports, showed it led to “complete, effective natural repair”.
Teeth have limited regenerative abilities. Dentists have to replace fillings multiple times during someone’s lifetime, so the researchers tried to enhance the natural regenerative capacity of teeth to repair larger holes.
They discovered that a drug called Tideglusib heightened the activity of stem cells in the dental pulp so they could repair 0.13mm holes in the teeth of mice.
A drug-soaked sponge was placed in the hole and then a protective coating was applied over the top. As the sponge broke down it was replaced by dentine, healing the tooth.
Prof Paul Sharpe, one of the researchers, told the BBC News website: “The sponge is biodegradable, that’s the key thing.
“The space occupied by the sponge becomes full of minerals as the dentine regenerates so you don’t have anything in there to fail in the future.” The team is now investigating whether the approach can repair larger holes.
Prof Sharpe said a new treatment could be available soon: “I don’t think it’s massively long term, it’s quite low-hanging fruit in regenerative medicine and hopeful in a three-to-five year period this would be commercially available.”
The field of regenerative medicine – which encourages cells to rapidly divide to repair damage – often raises concerns about cancer.
Tideglusib alters a series of chemical signals in cells, called Wnt, which has been implicated in some tumors.
However, the drug has already been trialed in patients as a potential dementia therapy.
“The safety work has been done and at much higher concentrations so hopefully we’re on to a winner,” said Prof Sharpe.
This is only the latest approach in repairing teeth – another group at King’s believe electricity can be used to strengthen a tooth by forcing minerals into the layer of enamel.
Minerals such as calcium and phosphate naturally flow in and out of the tooth with acid, produced by bacteria munching on food in the mouth, helping to leach out minerals.
The group apply a mineral cocktail and then use a small electric current to drive the minerals deep into the tooth.
They say “Electrically Accelerated and Enhanced Remineralisation” can strengthen the tooth and reduce dental caries.