For decades, the most enduring symbol for painful minor surgeries has been the root canal. But the days of cowering in fear over the dentists drill may one day come to an end at West Linn dentist Dr. Dugger’s dental office.
Researchers have made recent discoveries treating tooth decay they believe will allow them to restore tooth tissue, thereby avoiding the use of such painful procedures. A number of recent studies have shown in animals that techniques using tooth stem cells appear able to regrow the vital, living tissue inside of the tooth known as the pulp.
Treatments that encourage the body to regrow organs and tissue fall under the broad category of regenerative medicine. The medical community has shown significant interest in determining how to use these types of treatments to assist the millions of people who suffer from gum disease and decay that result in tooth loss, which comes as welcome news considering recent findings.
A recent World Health Organization report found that tooth decay ranks as a global epidemic, with nearly 60 percent of the world’s population suffering from some form of untreated decay. In the U.S., decay ranks as the number one chronic disease among school-aged children, and half of all kids develop at least one cavity by the time they reach 15, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tooth decay has also become a serious problem among seniors, as 25 percent of all adults over the age 65 have lost all of their permanent teeth.
The Dangers of Decay
Tooth decay begins when an infection or bacteria in the mouth become too much for a tooth’s natural healing process. If the cause of decay is left untreated, the damage continues to the hard outer surface of the tooth known as the enamel. Should bacteria make its way past the enamel, the delicate pulp inside of a tooth becomes infected and will eventually die. This results in the need for a root canal or the removal of the tooth.
The pulp inside of your tooth helps to detect sensations such as hot or cold, pressure, and sensitivity, and contains stem cells that can help regenerate tooth tissue. Researchers from around the globe have been working to find away to prompt the stem cells found in pulp to regenerate. While the process remains in the early stages, if successful, the technique could eliminate the need for root canals and help restore the oral health of billions.
The Science of a Healthier Mouth
Once decay causing bacteria has killed off the healthy cells in the pulp, dentists are left with only two options- perform a root canal or pull the tooth. The root canal procedure requires removing dead and infected tissue from the interior of a tooth and then sealing it so as to stop any future infections from developing.
However should the seal fail, a new infection could develop and require the tooth’s removal. Even if the seal remains intact, the tooth is effectively dead in the mouth, and could impact activities as eating. Because the tooth no longer contains any living nerves, it loses all feeling, which makes it difficult to determine if a new infection as developed.
Due to the cost and lack of dental insurance, millions are forced to settle for tooth removal instead of a root canal. Fortunately, researchers have started making exciting breakthroughs in finding ways to repair decay.
In addition to the use of stem cells, research is being conducted that focuses on helping people regrow teeth by duplicating in the human body mechanisms that reptiles use to develop teeth throughout their lifetime. Other research has focused on repurposing materials currently used to fight decay to encourage teeth to release additional proteins that will prompt growth.
While all of these different techniques are still years away from human trials and being used by West Linn dentist Dr. Dugger, the future of dental care seems like something to smile about.