Teaching teeth to repair themselves

Teaching teeth to repair themselves

One thing that teeth decay and the development of Alzheimer’s disease have in common is that they are both caused by the formation of plaque. In the first case it eats away at the enamel of the teeth, and in the second it attacks cells within the brain.

Now, for the first time, researchers at King’s College in London, England have announced that they may have uncovered a way to eliminate the need for artificial fillings using a drug being developed to help reverse dementia by stimulating the “renewal” of living stem cells in teeth. In other words, it may soon be possible for damaged teeth to “repair themselves” naturally.

According to lead researcher Paul Sharpe, our bodies already have the ability to “heal” small amounts of damage by activating the tooth contact stem cells known as odontoblasts found in its pulp. The pulp is the tooth’s soft inner core, which contains its sensory nerve, blood vessels, and connective tissue.

“In cases such as tiny cracks or fissures, these odontoblast cells can be stimulated into differentiating into specific tooth cells, which can then create new dentine and replace the damaged area, thus offering a more robust repair that can fill in bigger holes while maintaining the tooth’s natural structure.”

While the new treatment may eventually eliminate the need for regular fillings and even root canal surgery, it should be noted that this type of natural repair does not work for more significant damage, nor will it work to stimulate the growth of a new tooth to replace those lost or pulled out.

Odontoblasts are initially seen at sites of tooth development while the fetus is still in utero (usually at about 17–18 weeks), and remain present until death unless killed by the bacterial or chemical attack, or other trauma (e.g. heat during dental procedures). Basically, they are described as large columnar cells, whose lie along the interface between dentin (yellowish tissue that makes up the bulk of all teeth) and pulp.

In fact, odontoblasts secrete dentin throughout an individual’s life, unlike enamel, which is considered secondary dentin once root formation is complete, and is believed to be the body’s way of trying to compensate for natural wear of the enamel. Odontoblasts also secrete tertiary dentin when irritated in an effort to protect the pulp from bacteria that could potentially cause it to die.

Clinical trials for the new method, which have the backing of the UK’s Medical Research Council, are expected to begin sometime in 2018. In the meantime, readers can review Sharpe’s study published in the journal Science Reports,

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