What if cavities or cracked or broken teeth could be repaired without dental fillings?
Unlike many other types of human tissue, dental enamel, the outer layer of teeth, doesn’t regrow once it’s damaged. Dentists have to repair cavities and damaged enamel with synthetic materials like ceramics, metals, and resins.
But scientists are studying how to grow dental stem cells in a lab to try to transform how dentists treat teeth, imagining a future in which tooth enamel or whole teeth could be replaced.
Scientists have created a 3D model with human dental stem cells they are working to use as the building blocks to restore teeth, according to results of lab experiments reported in Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences.
The researchers used stem cells from the dental follicle, tissue that surrounds teeth, to make the 3D model, which can grow more dental stem cells in a lab.
“It would be a great advance in the field if stem cells could be used to repair cavities or treat other oral health issues,” says senior study author Hugo Vankelecom, PhD, a stem cell researcher at the University of Leuven in Belgium.
“The tooth provides an excellent source of stem cells,” he says, and his team can make them grow and produce a lot more cells.
In theory, it should be possible for scientists to get dental stem cells from teeth that are naturally lost or surgically removed. Then they could freeze and preserve the cells without losing their ability to grow and regenerate, Vankelecom says.
In the future, this might mean biobanks routinely store tissue from wisdom teeth that get pulled, so that dentists could use this tissue when oral health problems develop down the line.
“These cells could be applied to personalize dental treatments,” Vankelecom says.
Of course, many more lab tests and clinical trials will be needed to see if, one day, dentists can use dental stem cells to fill cavities and fix damaged teeth safely and effectively.
“Success in the clinic will depend on the ease of collection and biobanking, the cost, and the eventual quality of repair,” Vankelecom says.
That said, current techniques for filling cavities and repairing teeth leave a lot to be desired, says Ophir Klein, MD, PhD, executive director of Cedars-Sinai Guerin Children’s and an adjunct professor at the schools of dentistry and medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.
“A tooth that is treated with a biological as opposed to an inert therapeutic has the potential to remain healthier and more resilient,” says Klein, who wasn’t involved in the new study. “It seems plausible to me that in our lifetime, we will have stem cell-based therapies to treat dental disease.”
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