Scientists from the Universities of Nottingham and Harvard may have come up with a way to teach our teeth to heal themselves without the pain and expense of going to the dentist for a root canal. The researchers created regenerative dental fillings that eliminate the need for drilling into our molars, which can sometimes do more damage than good.
“Existing dental fillings are toxic to cells and are therefore incompatible with pulp tissue inside the tooth,” said Adam Celiz, a Marie Curie research fellow at the University of Nottingham to Newsweek. “In cases of dental pulp disease and injury a root canal is typically performed to remove the infected tissues.”
The research came in second in the materials category of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Emerging Technologies Competition 2016.
How did they do it?
The filling works by using stem cells to stimulate dentin growth or the bony material that helps create our teeth. With these fillings, a person suffering from dental disease will regrow healthier dentin to replace the affected area.
“We have designed synthetic biomaterials that can be used similarly to dental fillings but can be placed in direct contact with pulp tissue to stimulate the native stem cell population for repair and regeneration of pulp tissue and the surrounding dentin,” said Celiz.
The idea of regrowing body parts is an ability humans have yet to achieve.
However, animals like salamanders can easily regrow a missing tail in a matter of weeks. What if we could implement this ability into our system now?
The United States military is taking the lead on this, especially considering the number of amputations experienced by soldiers injured by roadside bombs in Afghanistan and Iraq. At a symposium on Military Health System Research, held on August 28th, 2017, Army Lt. Col. David Saunders discussed this topic.
“We’re not quite there yet,” said Saunders. “What we’re trying to do is develop a toolkit for our trauma and reconstructive surgeons out of various regenerative medicine products as they emerge to improve long-term outcomes in function and form of injured extremities.”
Salamanders are definitely a factor in this. A 2016 study looked into how salamanders regenerate their lost appendages. They found that all the animals (zebrafish, bichir, salamander) possessing these remarkable abilities share the same ten microRNA - small pieces of genetic code. With this knowledge, scientists believe they can program our microRNAs to behave in the same way.
We already have the ability to regenerate, but our bodies aren’t quite sure how to do it. “There are no special genes for regeneration," David Gardiner, professor of developmental and cell biology at the University of California, Irvine, told Live Science. "There are these steps they go through, and at least one of those steps doesn't work in humans."
Teeth or limbs, it seems that science is pushing us closer to figuring out those steps.