A middle-aged man wakes up one morning with a toothache. It’s the same tooth his dentist told him about last time he had a cleaning and exam. “This tooth has a cavity and it’s pretty deep. We really should attend to it sooner rather than later,” his dentist said to him. But life got in the way, and now he has a toothache and all he can think about is the dreaded root canal that he will most likely need.
But does it have to be that way? Perhaps not, with new developments in regenerative dentistry. A traditional root canal treatment involves accessing the root canal space of the tooth, removing the living “pulp” tissue that fills the root canal space, and replacing it with an inert filler that seals the root canal space and protects it from subsequent re-infection. Scientists across the globe are working on technology that will allow dentists to replace the pulp tissue with the patient’s own regenerated pulp rather than filling it with an inert sealer.
An article in the WSJ online discusses these advances and the impact they might make on the way we treat dental infections. Every tooth, both permanent (adult) and primary (baby), has within it a living soft tissue called the pulp. This pulp is a rich source of stem cells that can differentiate into cells that form all the vital structures of a tooth, including the supporting bone, ligament, and hard structures (like enamel). Extracted wisdom teeth are probably the best source of a patient’s own dental stem cells, but it’s also possible that these stem cells can be separated from the very tooth that is in need of regenerative therapy. In theory, these stem cells can be placed into the tooth in a gel-like substrate that allows the stem cells to differentiate and thrive and eventually regenerate the lost structures of the infected tooth. And PRESTO! New tooth!
In reality, this technology is still several years from clinical application. Most trials are being conducted in a laboratory setting, with some extending to dog studies. But this exciting development could mean far fewer root canals, extractions, and dental implants in the future.
It is important to note that root canals are not the same scary experience described in this article. Root canal therapy has come a long way since the days of your grandfather having to sit through one with no anesthesia because “the novocaine wouldn’t work.” Advances in antibiotic therapy and dental anesthetics allow us to comfortably perform root canals, while different techniques and instrumentation allow the root canal procedure to flow much more smoothly and efficiently. So don’t believe all the horror stories out there. More often than not, a root canal patient leaves happy and healthy and glad to know they will be out of pain when the anesthesia wears off.
Be assured that your team of dental professionals at Valley Dental Health will continue to explore investigational procedures in an effort to continue to provide the most advanced care for all of your dental and oral health needs.