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Stem cell fillings could regrow teeth, not just patch them

There is nothing worse than having to deal with cavities and the inevitable tooth pain that comes with dental disease. And as if the discomfort in your mouth wasn’t bad enough, you also have to deal with the resulting pain in your pocketbook when you are forced to cough up big bucks for a root canal. This kind of expensive and unpleasant treatment may eventually become a thing of the past thanks to the award-winning work of a team of scientists from the University of Nottingham and Harvard University, who have developed a method of regrowing damaged teeth.

The groundbreaking dental treatment uses a filling-like material seeded with stem cells to promote properties that encourage the growth of inner tooth pulp and dentin, structural components of a tooth. This new synthetic biomaterial is handled like a traditional filling and used to fill an open cavity in a tooth, but with one significant difference from existing treatments — drilling is kept to a minimum.

Existing dental fillings are not compatible with the pulp inside the tooth and require extensive drilling to remove rather than repair the damaged parts of the tooth. Once the damaged part of a tooth is removed, it is capped to prevent further harm.

In stark contrast to current dental practices, the new bio-friendly filling material was designed to repair the tooth and can be placed in direct contact with the pulp that is exposed when a cavity is formed. Once in place, the biomaterial stimulates the existing stem-cell population, kicking off a natural process of repair that results in the regeneration of damaged pulp tissue and dentin. In this method, damaged teeth are regrown and not removed.

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This innovative regenerative process was presented during the recent Emerging Technologies Competition 2016 and was awarded the second prize in the materials division by the Royal Society of Chemistry. Going forward, the team hopes to work with industry partners to bring the method out of the laboratory and into dentists’ offices around the world. “We are excited about the promise of therapeutic biomaterials for bringing regenerative medicine to restorative dentistry,” said research fellow Kyle Vining from the Wyss Institute at Harvard University to Newsweek.