A researcher at Rutgers School of Dental Medicine believes she can use stem cells to regenerate dental pulp. The technique could potentially be used in place of standard root canal treatments and could see the health of decayed teeth restored.
In the United States, more than 40,000 root canal treatments are performed every day. The treatment is the only method of saving a tooth when decay has reached the root canal and has started to spread to the surrounding nerve tissue.
Root canal treatments involve the removal of the infected and damaged pulp from the tooth, with the space filled with a synthetic material. A crown is then used to cap the tooth. Once the pulp is removed the tooth is dead and it has no chance of being restored to a healthy state.
However, there may be an alternative way to treat teeth that doesn’t involve standard root canal treatment. Rather than remove infected tissue and kill the tooth, it may be possible to restore pulp tissue lost through tooth decay.
At Rutgers School of Dental Medicine (RSDM) Emi Shimizu is studying how stem cells could be used to restore damaged tissue in root canals. Pulp could be generated from stem cells that have been harvested from skin and hair cells. Instead of using an artificial – and dead – material to fill root canals, this lab-grown pulp could be introduced instead. The tooth could be saved, and the nervous system and blood supply would remain. This approach could help to prevent infection, as the material would attack bacteria. The tooth would be restored to a natural and healthy state.
Shimizu has already received a $1.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to pursue her research. She is currently the only researcher currently using stem cells to regenerate dental pulp.
Researchers in Japan have already managed to regenerate dead pulp, but they did not substitute pulp with new cells. Their technique required harvesting cells from baby teeth or wisdom teeth. Further, cells would need to be harvested from patients and then stored in case they are needed, and the treatment would only be effective on younger patients.
Shimizu’s technique on the other hand would be cheaper and suitable for patients of all ages. Shimizu has already been given the go-ahead to conduct trials on mice and pending the outcome, clinical trials on humans will be next. Shimizu is confident that within 10 years her pulp regeneration procedure will be available to the public, although the treatment is likely to be much more expensive that standard root canal treatments, albeit with a better outcome. The procedure would also be quicker and less painful.