Dental fillings are effective tools in treating tooth decay, but they’re far from the living, breathing tissue you began with and only last so long before they need replacing. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just regrow the damaged or missing dentin? Advances in dental technology could soon make that a reality.
Dental fillings may repair damaged structures and replace missing or damaged dentin. But dentin, the protective layer that surrounds the tooth’s pulp, is also an access point for nutrients and oxygen, so replacing that can reduce overall tooth health. A class of regenerative drugs once researched as possible treatments for Alzheimer’s disease may be the key to triggering self-repairing teeth.
Lost for Good
Damage or decay can permanently destroy enamel, your tooth’s outer layer, and dentin, the layer that protects the tooth’s soft interior pulp. Enamel can’t regenerate at all. Dentin is able to regenerate, but only at a limited capacity. It can re-cover areas where pulp has been exposed, but it can’t repair actual missing pieces of tooth.
Dental fillings can replace the lost dentin and enamel, but they can’t replace the biological tissue that was once there. Dentin’s top function is to protect the tooth’s pulp, but it does more than that. It’s also responsible for keeping the pulp healthy, providing access to nutrients and oxygen. Without that surrounding living tissue, the pulp is left with less access to everything it needs to remain healthy.
A class of drugs called glycogen synthase kinase (GSK-3) antagonists have become a hot topic due to their stem cell activating properties. Researchers originally studied them in hopes of finding a better treatment for degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. Now, they may be the key to triggering self-repairing teeth.
Researchers in the U.K. have successfully repaired teeth in mice using safe, biodegradable sponges saturated in GSK-3 antagonists. They simulated tooth damage by drilling tiny holes in selected teeth, then inserted the medicated sponges and sealed them using a cement mixture. After 6 weeks the dentin had been completely restored, supporting healthy pulp just as naturally and effectively as the lost tissue.
Human studies aren’t yet underway. One major obstacle researchers need to overcome is the size difference between mice and humans. We’re about 1000 times larger than the little critters, so it will likely take far longer than 6 weeks for our teeth to complete similar repairs.
We might not be there quite yet, but we could be on our way toward a whole new approach in dentistry. Imagine real, living teeth and tissue where each of your current fillings are.
~ Here’s to Your Health and Wellness