Dental researchers from the University of Nottingham and at Harvard University have created a new kind of tooth filling. It is a biomaterial that hardens with light, and can be placed directly on the pulp of the tooth. This encourages the damaged pulp to regenerate a protective layer of dentin. The synthetic biomaterial is designed to stimulate the stem cells already found within the pulp.
Stem cells are specialized cells that absorb the qualities of surrounding cells, thereby being whatever you would like them to be. For instance, stem cells placed in the spinal column become spinal cells. Adult stem cells are found in the bone marrow, the blood stream, and the pulp inside our teeth. Stem cells are known to encourage regeneration.
A tooth has three layers of tissue. The white outer layer is called the enamel. This is the tooth's protective covering. Under the enamel is the dentin, a hard substance which supports the enamel. Inside the dentin is the pulp, a soft inner tissue that contains blood vessels and nerves. The pulp is very sensitive, and should not be exposed.
Regeneration in restorative dentistry is not an entirely new idea, but this is the first time researchers have come up with a new biomaterial that allows regeneration to occur, while also helping to prevent infection. Most major developments in dental regeneration are fairly recent. Great strides have been made in dental regeneration since 2012.
In the early 2000s, scientists at the Dental Institute of Kings College London successfully used stem cells to grow new teeth in mice. In 2010, a professor of dental medicine at Columbia University created dental implants that grow right inside the patient's mouth, again using stem cells in the tooth pulp as a starting point. The implant somewhat resembles a tooth-shaped honeycomb that eventually gets filled up with regenerated dentin. That study was published in the Journal of Dental Research. Columbia University filed a patent and sought to commercialize the invention. About two years ago, another team at Harvard used a low power laser light to trigger stem cell regeneration in teeth, causing them to form dentin. This advance was reported in Science Translational Medicine.
But until now, materials used for tooth fillings did not interface with all biological materials. In ten percent of all cases, the tooth fillings fail. Then the dentist is forced to perform a root canal. It is believed that this new biomaterial will encourage the regeneration of stem cells found inside the teeth. These new dental fillings can actually help to heal teeth that are injured from dental disease or dental surgery.
This research earned second prize in the "materials" category of the 2016 Emerging Technologies Competition, hosted by the Royal Society of Chemistry. That accomplishment speaks for itself. The team now hopes to move forward and further develop the technology.
Says Dr. Kyle Vining from the Wyss Institute at Harvard, "We are excited about the promise of therapeutic biomaterials for bringing regenerative medicine to restorative dentistry. "