What if someone told you that you had a cavity but you didn’t need a filling? Or your filling failed, but you didn’t need a root canal?
These may seem highly improbable to you, however, researchers at Wyss Institute at Harvard University and University of Nottingham have made this a very real scenario.
We have all heard of stem cell (cells that divide and multiply to replace cells that have died due to wear and tear, disease or injury) research. Yes, it is hotly debated and both sides have viable arguments. Most of the controversy surrounding stem cell research deals with using embryonic stem cells, and for some that poses a moral and ethical dilemma.
This research, however, uses what is called native stem cells. That means stem cells that already exist in our bodies. The researchers developed a synthetic biomaterial that they inject into the affected tooth and then harden with an ultraviolet light.
The biomaterial stimulates the stem cells already present in the tooth to begin to regenerate dentin. Dentin is the hard bony-like material that makes up the bulk of a tooth. It is just under the enamel.
This is huge for a couple of reasons. One the need for traditional fillings is eliminated. With traditional fillings, the tooth is drilled out and filled with a substance such as: gold, plastic or resin based material, or amalgam. Amalgam fillings are toxic to the body and detrimental to a person’s health as they contain mercury. Many people do not even feel comfortable with the safer materials, as they are still technically a foreign substance to the body and come with its own set of concerns for some.
This new research could make fillings (of any kind) obsolete. Since the tooth can essentially heal itself, the filling would not be necessary.
Statistics show that 10-15% of fillings fail. This is a problem because when that filling fails, a root canal is then needed to address the issue. Root canals can also fail and then the tooth must be extracted/replaced, and replacement options often present biocompatible concerns. This new advancement can eliminate the need then for not only fillings, but root canal as well. Since the tooth is regenerating and healing itself, there is no filling to fail and therefore, no root canal to perform.
This is all still in the preliminary phases, but much work and research has been done in the last several years and we can only hope that soon, this will be a standard treatment in every dental office. All future dental “fillings” will be comprised of this biomaterial and will save many of us from choosing from the difficult dental options we have today.